I asked earlier whether the Diamond Dogs were running on empty. That question received an emphatic, and embarrassing, answer at Foley Field on Wednesday night, when a Georgia squad that lost to Jacksonville State on the road last week again fell to the Gamecocks at home.
I will spare you all but the goriest details. After Cecil Tanner hurled a scoreless first frame, the Red and Black got things going with a leadoff hit by Matt Cerione in the bottom of the stanza. A bases-loaded single by Rich Poythress and subsequent instances of putting the ball into play by Joey Lewis and Chase Davidson forced J.S.U. starter Mitch Miller from the game before the end of a five-hit, four-run canto.
Any hope that the Classic City Canines were on cruise control was dashed in the top of the third stanza, when a Steven Leach single, a Kyle Bluestein double, and a Daniel Adamson home run made it a 4-3 ballgame after Alex McRee notched the final out with the bases loaded. Georgia answered in the fourth frame with back-to-back inning-opening singles off the bats of Cerione and Johnathan Taylor. An Adam Fuller walk and a Peter Verdin single added a trio of runs to the Diamond Dogs’ tally, and the home team tacked on another in the fifth canto when Colby May sent a single into right field to score Cerione from second.
As the Classic City Canines entered the top of the seventh stanza, they sent Justin Earls to the mound to protect an 8-3 lead as the fourth pitcher of the night for Georgia. He gave up the two-out home run to Andrew Edge that made it 8-4, and, in the top of the eighth frame, Michael Palazzone began his turn on the hill by surrendering, in succession, a single to Spencer Brandes, a double to Todd Cunningham, a sacrifice fly to Blake Seguin, and a single to Leach. When Dean Weaver was sent in to put out the fire, he gave up a double to Adamson. The damage came to three runs on four hits, but the Red and Black still clung to an 8-7 advantage.
While all of this was going on, Georgia was in the process of leaving the bases loaded in the first stanza and going hitless in the second, third, sixth, seventh, and eighth cantos. Then came the top of the ninth frame, which was as disastrous a half-inning as I have seen from the Diamond Dogs since their epic meltdown against South Carolina in May 2007.
Weaver issued a leadoff walk to Edge, who advanced to third when Heath Wall doubled down the left field line. Brandes reached on a fielder’s choice, but Poythress threw the Gamecock designated hitter out at home. A Cunningham triple plated two to give the visitors the lead and a Seguin single padded the advantage by adding another run. Weaver gave way to Jason Leaver, who plunked Leach before both baserunners moved over on a passed ball.
Once Bluestein had been awarded an intentional walk to put three men aboard, Adamson drew the base on balls that forced home a run and Sam Eberle was hit by a pitch to bring in another. An Edge single scored a pair, at which point Leaver was succeeded by Earl Daniels and the latest Georgia hurler walked Wall so that a Jay Davis single could bat in another couple of runs. Cunningham hit into a fielder’s choice and Leach popped up to short to put the five-hit, nine-run inning in the books, but not before a wild pitch and a walk left the bases loaded.
Trailing 16-8, the Diamond Dogs did nothing but roll over and play dead. In the bottom of the ninth frame, Verdin fouled out, Michael Demperio popped up, and Miles Starr flied out to wrap up a truly awful showing by the Classic City Canines. Despite playing errorless baseball, Georgia was out-hit 19-10 and outscored by a decidedly unlucky 13-0 margin in the final three stanzas.
Jacksonville State’s numbers were ridiculous. Five Gamecocks had multiple R.B.I., including Daniel Adamson (3 of 5 with 4 R.B.I.) and Andrew Edge (2 of 3 with 3 R.B.I. as a pinch hitter) but not including Steven Leach (5 for 6 with 1 R.I.W.W.B.). Four of Georgia’s eight pitchers gave up three or more earned runs. There was an avalanche of wild pitches, passed balls, and hit batsmen, and the last three Bulldog hurlers walked five and struck out one.
There’s no way to spin this one. There’s no way to take this in stride with a sense of humor, which is why no pictures with funny captions appear in this posting. The Diamond Dogs had in hand a midweek home game against an inferior opponent, and they let it get away from them in spectacular fashion. I’m no longer willing to accept or advance the "lookahead" excuse. At this point in the season, every weekend series is worthy of the team’s attention; the team has to focus past that and concentrate on the task at hand. 45 games into a 55-game campaign, youth no longer is synonymous with inexperience.
The bottom line is that championship teams do not go 0-2 against Jacksonville State. The essence of baseball, more so than any other sport, is performance at a high level against all manner of competition on a daily basis. Georgia is not getting the job done consistently either against the best teams on its schedule or the worst.