Georgia (1-2) appeared to be carrying its momentum from Saturday's 11-3 win over Georgia Southern (2-1) into game three of its opening weekend series at Foley Field. However, a costly third inning for the Bulldogs' defense and starting pitcher Patrick Boling left Georgia in a tough position.
"People here love their baseball," Georgia head coach Scott Stricklin said. "I think we're all disappointed in the way we played today. When you get beat on your home field in front of your home crowd no one likes that."
Boling allowed seven runs, only one of which was earned, and six hits through 2.2 innings pitched on Sunday. He was replaced by Ross Ripple who allowed four earned runs and five hits through 0.1 innings pitched.
Nelson Ward was the first Bulldog to get on the base path on Sunday with a two-out single past the shortstop in the bottom of the first inning. Facing a 2-1 count, Hunter Cole stepped to the plate to face off against the right-hander Ryan Frederick. Cole was walked, but the final pitch of the at bat went past catcher Chase Griffin. An aggressive Ward tried to take third base, but Garrett Chapman put the tag down just in time to finish the inning.
Ward batted 2 for 5 on Sunday with one RBI and one strikeout.
"That second game yesterday; that's how we can play," Ward said. "We've got a lot of speed, so if we get on base we're going to beat them moving. We've got a good team. We've just got to put things together and just play."
In the top of the second, a heated Stricklin approached home plate umpire David Savage after a strikeout that resulted in a passed ball. Catcher Skyler Weber, apparently unaware the call was a dropped strike three, threw the ball to third baseman Jess Posey in the act of carrying out a strikeout ritual. The hitter, Dalton Busby, however made it to first safely.
After reviewing the play and the situation, Stricklin says Savage made the right call.
"Skyler turned around and asked, and David Savage made the safe call right away, meaning there was no catch," Stricklin explained. "The umpire made the call right away. It was a young, freshman mistake. You make a mistake and you learn from it. It won't happen again, I can tell you that."
The following hitter, center fielder Kody Adams, reached first by way of a bunt that advanced Busby to second. Both runners then advanced on a wild pitch from Boling. With no outs, Georgia Southern was in position to take the lead with second baseman Ben Morgan at the plate. Morgan capitalized on the opportunity by knocking a single to left field that plated Busby for the Eagles' first run of the game and advanced Adams to third.
Aaron Mizell's sacrifice fly to center field scored Adams, giving the Eagles a 2-0 lead with one out in the top of the third.
41 pitches into Sunday's game, Georgia Southern's offense from game one had been revived.
With runners on first and second, Boling walked Ryan Cleveland to load the bases and advance Chase Griffin and Morgan. Garren Palmer sent Morgan home with a fly out to left fielder Hunter Cole, who made a diving catch, for Georgia Southern's third run of the inning. The fourth run came home when Chapman's single to third base was out of Posey's reach, which scored Griffin and advanced Ryan Cleveland to second.
Boling's nightmare ended, so to speak, when a bouncing ball to second base confused D.J. Smith, leading to an infield single from Stryker Brown. Brown's single loaded the bases and led to a pitching change; redshirt junior Ripple to replace Boling.
Boling didn't leave Ripple with an easy task.
"It stinks, obviously," Cole said. "We just have to learn to handle our emotions a little better; kind of shut it down and forget some mistakes that were possibly made and start new and shut them down as quickly as you can so that we don't allow a big inning. Especially 11 runs to happen."
Georgia made its first attempt at cutting into Georgia Southern's 11 run lead in the bottom of the third when Conor Welton singled to center field, advancing Stephen Wrenn, who previously reached base by way of a single to right. However, the Bulldogs had little room to breath with two outs against them.
The tight spot didn't cause Ward to falter, though. His two-out single to right field scored Wrenn from second and advanced Welton to third, giving the Bulldogs their first run of the game. Georgia's cleanup hitter, Hunter Cole, then reached base by way of a Frederick walk to load the bases for Posey.
Cole was walked four times on Sunday, just one walk short of tying Georgia's single game record.
"Patience is kind of key," Cole said. "If they're not going to give you anything, you can't chase cause that's when you get yourself out. I had to take what they gave me, which was a bunch of walks, then try to do stuff on the bases."
In the top of the fourth, the Bulldogs called on redshirt sophomore Mike Mancuso to replace Ripple. Mancuso made quick work of his first two batters, but gave up a single to Busby. Busby later scored on an Adams double to center field. That would be the only run of the inning for Georgia Southern, which held a 12-2 advantage after three and a half innings.
Mizell, already with one home run in the game, led off the fifth inning with a deep shot to right field for his second on the year. Mancuso surrendered the home run to Mizell, then walked Griffin; the last batter he would face in Sunday's game. Mancuso was replaced by redshirt sophomore Pete Nagel, a Metter, Ga. native.
Pitching woes continued for the Bulldogs in the top of the fifth, however, when Nagel gave up a three-run home run with two outs. The Eagles scored four runs in the fifth by way of two hits.
"I want our players to be disappointed about it, but I told them not to hang their head," Stricklin said. "We still believe in them and we want them to believe in themselves."
Trailing 16-4 in the bottom of the sixth, the Bulldogs had the bases loaded with Posey at the plate. Posey, however, struck out swinging to end the inning.
"It's over. The series is over," Ward said. "It's not the way we want to start the season, but it's over now. We've got Kennesaw State on Tuesday."
Georgia baseball will be back in action on Tuesday at 5 p.m. as it takes on Kennesaw State at Foley Field.
"It's certainly not easy to swallow, but we're going to go back to work tomorrow and we're going to get ready for Tuesday night," Stricklin said.