On the day after arguably the worst beatdown of almost certainly the worst season in the Diamond Dogs’ long history, David Perno and Brady Wiederhold opted not to take my suggestion that they give some starts to their younger pitchers, electing instead to seat sophomore Michael Palazzone and give senior Alex McRee his second start of the season. That decision turned out badly, as Tennessee battered both the starting pitcher and the late-inning relievers to claim the series sweep.
McRee walked the leadoff batter in the opening inning, thereby issuing his 30th free pass of the season. Khayyan Norfork then advanced from first to second when the Georgia hurler threw his thirteenth wild pitch of the spring. After another walk and another wild pitch put runners at the corners, McRee plunked P.J. Polk for his sixth hit batsman of the year. Palazzone then took over on the mound.
The first batter faced by the starter-turned-reliever blasted a grand slam to center field, so, even though the next five Volunteer hitters produced two singles and three outs, Tennessee led 4-0 ere the Red and Black ever picked up a bat. The Athenians produced a Peter Verdin leadoff single, a Todd Hankins walk, and a runner-advancing Levi Hyams sacrifice before Zach Cone flied out and Verdin was thrown out at third after having left too soon.
The Big Orange generated another run in the top of the second stanza on a one-out single, a stolen base, and a two-out RBI base hit. The Classic City Canines had only a trio of groundouts to show for their turn at the plate, but another Volunteer run came home in the upper half of the third canto due to a one-out single, a stolen base, and a two-out RBI base hit.
A two-out Verdin double in the bottom of the frame gave the Bulldogs their second hit but did not lead to their first run, as Hankins struck out to squander the opportunity. Tennessee went three up and three down in the top of the fourth stanza, whereas Georgia generated a run in the lower half of the inning on a Hyams single, a balk, and a Kyle Farmer RBI groundout. The Vols had only a two-out single to show for the visitors’ turn at bat in the fifth canto.
Kevin Ruiz led off the bottom of the frame with a double to right field, and Carson Schilling brought him the rest of the way around with a base hit. A Johnathan Taylor double advanced the Athenian catcher to third, enabling Verdin to score him with a sacrifice fly. The Big Orange answered in the top of the sixth stanza, when a two-out single and a stolen base permitted Polk to drive in a run with a base hit.
Neither team produced a baserunner either in the bottom of the sixth inning or the top of the next one, but the Red and Black managed to get men aboard in the home half of the seventh canto. A leadoff single by Schilling and a one-out base hit by Verdin put the Classic City Canines in a position to cut into the deficit, but Hankins grounded into a double play.
The eighth frame saw Josh Liles drop a one-out single into left field in the visitors’ turn at the plate before Hyams homered to lead off the bottom of the inning. The deep drive to right field cut the deficit in runs to 7-4 and narrowed the margin in hits to 11-10. A Cone double and a Polk error evened the hits and allowed the run to score that left the Tennesseans up by two.
Following a Farmer flyout and a Volunteer pitching switch, Zach Taylor walked and Ruiz singled to center field. A Schilling home run plated three to give Georgia the lead, then Verdin notched a two-out base hit and stole second. Hankins’s ensuing single scored an additional run, so, by the time Hyams hit into a fielder’s choice, the Diamond Dogs held advantages of 9-7 in runs and 15-11 in hits.
The Tennesseans responded with a leadoff single and an ensuing walk in the top of the ninth stanza. One run scored on a Hankins error and another came home on a sacrifice fly after an intentional walk loaded the bases. Successive singles by Cody Grisham and Liles scored two more to give the lead back to the Big Orange before Polk flied out and Justin Earls came in from the bullpen.
Cody Hawn promptly drove a three-run shot to right field to snarl the hits at fifteen apiece and give the visitors a five-run advantage over their hosts. Once a groundout concluded the canto, the Diamond Dogs came back up to bat in the bottom of the final frame. Cone led off with a double, then Farmer doubled to bring him home. Ruiz scored Farmer with a one-out sacrifice fly, but, following a Schilling single, a flyout brought down the curtain on the wasted opportunity.
Poor coaching cost Georgia a game in which the Red and Black out-hit their guests by three (18-15) yet were outscored by the opposition by three (14-11). Would-be starter Michael Palazzone spent six stanzas on the hill, during which time he struck out three and surrendered a respectable four earned runs. Would-be closer Alex McRee, who is three for three in save situations this spring, was unavailable for late-inning duty in a close contest because he drew the ill-fated start, issuing a pair of bases on balls, conceding three earned runs, and extracting zero outs. Because McRee, who (unlike Billy Joel) started the fire, could not be called upon to put it out, Cooper Moseley and Justin Earls came on in his stead, and they gave up four earned runs (and seven total runs) in a three-inning span.
The decision to give a senior his second start of the season on Sunday made no sense. It cost the Diamond Dogs in the early going, and, when the Georgians battled back to take the lead, it cost the Classic City Canines again when their starter was unavailable to be their closer. In the seven stanzas separating the ill-fated first frame from the ninth-inning meltdown, the Bulldogs outscored the Volunteers 9-3.
Had Georgia started a starter instead of a closer and closed with the closer who shouldn’t have been a starter, the Diamond Dogs would have won this game. Brady Wiederhold mistakenly mismanaged his pitching staff and David Perno erroneously allowed him to do it. The Red and Black should have a new pitching coach in 2011.