In a critical SEC series, the 28th-ranked Diamond Dogs lost two of three weekend encounters with the fourth-ranked Gators, falling 5-4 in the opener on Friday, erupting for a 7-2 victory in a Saturday contest shown on ESPNU, and allowing the Orange and Blue to break open a competitive contest in the late innings of a 14-7 Sunday setback.
Friday night’s pitchers’ duel between Georgia’s Alex Wood and Florida’s Hudson Randall was tied at one run apiece heading into the fifth frame, when consecutive singles to start the inning set up the first of two straight two-run cantos for the Gators. Down 5-1 after six stanzas, the Diamond Dogs scored two in the seventh inning off of a pair of base hits, a walk, and an error. In the bottom of the ninth frame, Georgia used a one-out double by third baseman Curt Powell and a two-out single by outfielder Peter Verdin to plate the Athenians’ final run, but second baseman Levi Hyams went down swinging with the would-be tying run aboard to leave the home team on the wrong end of a 5-4 decision.
The Diamond Dogs avenged that loss before a sellout crowd (though not a full house, despite the best efforts of the Dawg Sports crew on hand for the event) in another outing that pitted two evenly-matched starters through seven stanzas. Michael Palazzone came out on top, allowing six hits and one earned run in eight innings with the aid of some tremendous play in the outfield, including a throw home that kept the contest scoreless through three cantos.
Georgia got on the board in the bottom of the fourth frame when Powell drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a single by shortstop Kyle Farmer, took third on a sacrifice groundout by center fielder Zach Cone, and came home on a groundout by designated hitter Brett DeLoach. That 1-0 lead held up through the seventh inning, in which Verdin made a play at the wall to rob second baseman Josh Adams of a home run, but center fielder Bryson Smith drove a home run to left field in the top of the eighth stanza to tie the game.
Facing bonus cantos, the Bulldogs took control of the contest in the bottom of the inning. Hyams’s one-out walk and Powell’s ensuing single put two aboard for Farmer (2 for 4, 1 RBI), who reclaimed the lead for the home team with a run-scoring double. After Cone was walked intentionally to load the bases, DeLoach (3 for 4, 4 RBI) drove a triple to center field to clear the bases and bring three more runs home. Left fielder Conor Welton scored the Red and Black designated hitter with a single, and a Gator error set the stage for Verdin to plate an unearned run with a base hit of his own. Though Florida was able to drive in a run against Blake Dieterich, Georgia carded the five-run victory to even the series.
In Sunday’s rubber match, the Gators chased starter Craig Gullickson after two innings by plating a quartet of runs in the top of the first frame. The Classic City Canines cut into the deficit in the second stanza with a leadoff triple by Cone and an RBI single by first baseman Jonathan Hester before each team scored two runs in the fifth canto to make the margin 6-3. In the sixth inning, the Bulldogs used a walk, four singles, a double, and an RBI fielder’s choice to bring home the four runs that gave Georgia a 7-6 advantage.
Unfortunately, it was all Florida from there, as the Gators plated two runs in the seventh stanza, five in the eighth, and one in the ninth. Though it was dismaying that the Diamond Dogs were outscored 8-0 in the final three frames, the 14-7 final margin masked an otherwise even outing in which neither team committed an error and the Sunshine State Saurians held only a slight 17-16 edge in hits.
It was disappointing that the Red and Black bookended the series with losses in a one-run game on Friday and in a game in which they held a late lead on Sunday. Georgia had a shot at taking two of the three meetings, but the Diamond Dogs came up short. Still, the Athenians played toe-to-toe with the Orange and Blue for all but the last three innings of the series, which offers some encouragement for the remainder of the season.