Georgia Evens Series With 6-1 Saturday Win

After battering Georgia 15-5 on Friday night, Coach Ron Polk mused about perhaps trying to bank some runs for the next day. It was an unintentionally prophetic comment, because Saturday afternoon the Diamond Dogs found their offensive account had indeed been overdrawn.

Georgia lefthander Mickey Westphal foreclosed on Mississippi State in game-two of the SEC series, throwing a complete-game as the visiting Bulldogs beat the host Bulldogs 6-1 at Dudy Noble Field. The win evened the inter-Divisional series at a game apiece going into Sunday's rubber contest, and raised UG's record to 20-10 overall, 4-7 SEC. State fell to 25-5 and 6-4 SEC.

Even for baseball this outcome had to be somewhat surprising, and not merely in the aftermath of Friday night's rout. On the 2006 edition of ‘Super Saturday' a turnstile crowd of 13,167, the fourth-largest attendance in MSU—and thus SEC campus as well—history packed Polk-DeMent Stadium. Less than 50 of those in the house were pulling for the ‘other' Bulldogs. But that handful were also the only ones leaving DNF happy, after Mississippi State suffered the first homefield loss of this season.

Happiest of all had to be Westphal, a senior and one of only three UG Bulldogs who were recruited by Ron Polk during his two-year tenure in Athens. He single-, and left-, handedly spoiled the day for the home folk, while belying the 2-0 record coming in. He sailed through nine innings on 94 pitches, with the last out coming only 2:01 after the first pitch.

Polk said Westphal was a ‘power' pitcher when signed four years ago, before shoulder problems made the lefty begin relying on timing and touch. "His numbers were not good coming, he's been kind of hard-luck," Polk said. But his Saturday numbers were brilliant; Westphal scattered six base hits with no walks while allowing one unearned run on a sacrifice-fly in the second inning. He struck out five Dogs and consistently frustrated the rest.

"He just kept us off balance with that changeup," said third baseman Michael Rutledge, who drove in that lone MSU score. "He wasn't throwing but 80, 82 miles per hour, might have bumped it up to 85 a couple of times. But he was using that changeup to keep us off-speed and out-front. It's tough to stay back when it's floating up, we kept popping a lot of balls up."

MSU starter Josh Johnson had to admire how his counterpart performed, noting that the contrast from Friday night was near-total. In the opener State beat up on a hard thrower with pro potential; the next day a crafty southpaw baffled the Bulldogs. "We go from what we call a type-A righty who throws hard to a type-B lefty, and we struggle with that sometimes," Johnson said. "He did a good job and we couldn't put something together."

Johnson was not as effective or as fortunate, and that mattered this windy day. Georgia got eight hits off the MSU righthander to score all six of their runs, five of them earned. Johnson (4-2) struck out four and walked just one. "I thought I had pretty good stuff before the game in the bullpen," the junior said. "I had good velocity, I threw the best I could. I made some mistakes and they hit it, I made some good pitches and they hit that too."

Which was the real difference in the day, Polk said. "I thought Josh pitched well, too. He didn't walk but one. But they found real estate and we didn't."

In contrast to their previous four games, with 11 or more runs scored each time, Bulldog batters weren't finding open spaces and green grass. "I thought we put some good swings on (Westphal) but it didn't show up in the box score," Rutledge said. What did show was that State managed one run, and left only four runners on bases. That reflected the frustration MSU hitters felt with the opposing pitcher as well as with themselves.

It started early, too, as after Johnson sat the side in the top of the first inning State got a pair on with two outs. Shortstop Thomas Berkery took away any tension about keeping his hitting streak alive with a single, and RF Mitch Moreland followed with a single. Westphal struck out centerfielder Joseph Hunter to strand both.

In the second DH Joseph McCaskill started the inning with a base hit and kept going to second as the ball was errored in rightfield. A fly ball moved him a base closer to home, where McCaskill could score on Rutledge's fly ball to leftfield.

But that would be all the scoring State mustered. Catcher Edward Easley singled with one down in the third inning, and in the fourth Hunter reached on a leadoff bunt single. Neither came close to scoring. Westphal ended that fourth frame on a double-play and retired another seven-straight. He didn't overpower the home Dogs, nor did he need to try.

"Every ball we hit well seemed to get held up in the wind and they were able to make a play," said Rutledge.

Meanwhile the Georgia offense woke up in their third look at Johnson. Ryan Peisel and Matthew Dunn opened the inning with singles, and Joey Side changed the game with a two-base drive into rightfield that scored both runners in front of him and put UG in front 2-1.

That's how it stayed through six innings as Johnson went on a ten-retire streak. He had one down in the seventh when Gordon Beckham doubled to the left-centerfield gap, and scored on a single by Peisel. A ground-out advanced Peisel into scoring position, and Side did the trick with a bouncing base hit for a 4-1 score. Then Side stole second and got to third on a catcher's throwing error, though he would have scored on Jonathan Wyatt's base hit anyway.

"Georgia put some hits together," Polk said, "they strung some innings together with things happening and got the ball in play." Meanwhile State couldn't get the same results no matter how well the ball was struck. Such as in the bottom of the seventh when Hunter and Rutledge cracked the ball but right into UG gloves.

A leadoff walk in the UG eighth brought righthander Aaron Weatherford from the Bulldog bullpen. He got a quick out before giving up a single to Jason Jacobs for runners on corners. A fly ball by Matt Robbins scored Bobby Felmy for Georgia's last run. Wetherford got the side in the ninth on four pitches.

But State also went down in-order to end the afternoon. Side, Jacobs, and Peisel all had a pair of base hits for Georgia, while only McCaskill did the same for MSU. And all of State's six safeties were singletons.

Berkery's hit in the first did give him a share of the school record for single-season hitting streaks, as he has now hit in 27-straight games. He will try to break the tie with Ron Brown Sunday.

Still, "It was a pitcher's day," said Polk. It certainly wasn't a day for MSU batters, held to a single score on their own field after a run of double-digit performances. "It'd be nice to save a few and take them to the next game," Rutledge said. By the same token, the Bulldogs don't assume that they've built up batting credit for Sunday's rubber game.

"One game at a time," said Rutledge. "We'll just bounce back tomorrow, play as hard as we can, and hopefully win." State will start righthander John Lalor while Georgia shows righthander Trevor Holder, a freshman, as their starter.

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