Diamond Dawgs struggle to find form

ATHENS – If Georgia wants to win its first SEC series in more than a month, it as work left to do today.

The Bulldogs missed a chance Saturday, rallying with four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning only to fall 7-6 to No. 9 Arkansas in 10 innings in front of 2,952 fans in Foley Field. The game was more of the same for Georgia, which got a brief lift with a 6-1 Friday night win but returned to form in game 2.

"It's tough to swallow," said senior center fielder Jonathan Wyatt. "I feel like we played hard those last couple innings. It's sad we couldn't finish the deal, but there's one more (today), and we have to get that one."

Game 3 of the series is today at 1 p.m. at Foley Field.

Georgia has won just one SEC series this year, sweeping Auburn in their first league action of the year in the middle of March.

"You have to get over the hump at some point, and (Saturday) was the day," head coach David Perno said. "(Saturday) we had a chance to get over the hump and couldn't do it."

The Bulldogs are coming off an appearance in the 2006 College World Series and were expected to contend for the SEC title this year but fell to 14-25 overall and 6-11 in the conference with the loss. Now, they have plenty of work to do just to qualify for the eight-team SEC tournament. They are last in the league after Saturday's loss and have series left against No. 1 Vanderbilt, No. 4 South Carolina and No. 20 Mississippi State.

Until the ninth inning, Georgia was on the way to its 16th game this year with two or fewer runs. Wyatt and freshman catcher Joey Lewis each had a two-run home run in the bottom of the inning. Lewis' shot over the left field wall tied the game at 6-6.

Arkansas' Danny Hamblin answered the rally with a solo home run to lead off the top of the 10th off freshman Bulldog reliever Alex McRee. That proved the game-winning hit as Georgia fell to 0-5 in extra inning games this year.

If the Bulldogs had taken advantage of earlier opportunities, they could have gotten the win in regulation. Instead, they followed the same anemic offensive pattern that has led to this season-long slump.

Georgia is last in the SEC in runs scored with 175, making it the only team in the league with fewer than 200, and it is next-to-last in batting (.265). On Saturday, the Bulldogs had 13 hits but grounded into three double plays, struck out seven times, most notably three times with the bases loaded, and left 10 runners on base.

"When you get bases loaded, somebody has to push something across," Wyatt said. "It's hard to win if you get bases loaded and nobody pushes anything across."

In the bottom of the sixth, the Bulldogs loaded the bases with one out but freshmen Luke Stewart and Matt Cerione struck out, Stewart without swinging at a pitch.

In the bottom of the seventh, they had the bases loaded with one out again and got one run. Lewis struck out looking with the bases loaded for the final out.

"The young guys seem to break down offensively with the bases loaded," Perno said. "All of a sudden, they stop swinging at good pitches and they start chasing bad pitches. That's a work in progress. Hopefully, (today) we'll get Jonathan Wyatt up with bases loaded."

Defensively, Georgia is eighth in the SEC in fielding percentage and committed four errors Saturday that led to two earned runs.

"If we play a little defense, it probably would have been over," Perno said.

Another part of the Bulldogs' problem showed up in the top of the fourth inning when junior pitcher Josh Fields walked to the mound to replace Trevor Holder, who gave up three runs in three innings and still is searching for his first win of the year.

Fields was a second-team All-American last year as the Bulldogs closer and entered the season as one college baseball's top prospects. However, he blew a save in the first game of the year, giving up six ninth-inning runs against defending national champion Oregon State and never recovered. He blew four more saves before being moved to middle relief following last weekend's Alabama series.

He gave up three runs, only one earned, in 1 2/3 Saturday. That one earned run turned out to be the difference in Georgia's ninth one-run loss of the year.

"I went through the '05 season and that was tough, but we didn't lose this many one-run games," Wyatt said. "When we lost in '05, we lost. One-run games are the toughest ones to swallow."

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