The Diamond Dogs also gave a good start to a new era of sorts, as this was their first game following Polk's Thursday announcement that he is resigning at the end of the 2008 season. Polk, the winningest coach in any SEC sport ever, did not want to make the game or series about himself, but MSU players agreed there was something more urgent about Friday.
"A lot of guys got kind of emotional, realizing we're the team he's going out on," Hogue said. Polk talked extensively about his decision with the media after the game, and quotes and video will be available on this page.
The series-opener itself was the more immediate matter for Polk, though. And whatever the motivations, other factors proved decisive for the home Dogs. "It was one of those games where speed was a big factor." In fact the fastest pup, centerfielder Hogue, put his velocity to good use by scoring a tying run in the fifth inning and the winner in the tenth. He also had two of State's nine base hits.
Fields had been give the ball and a 2-2 tie to protect in the MSU ninth and got the bottom of the order. But lead-off man Hogue came back from two strikes to go full before lining a safety over the second baseman. There was no question the league-leader in steals would try again; he'd nabbed a bag already in the fifth to get into scoring position. Hogue probably had the throw beaten but UG catcher Bryce Massanari's shot skipped through.
"When I slid I saw the ball and my reaction was to go. The first thing Coach told me when I got there was it was bone-headed!" But Polk had something else to say about the no-out, 90-foot situation. "I told Grant there's a chance now because this kid has so much stuff the ball just jumps around."
The fastball jumped out of Fields' hand and got by the mitt, to the backstop as Hogue made the plate unchallenged. "He's got a sixth sense when it comes to baseball," the junior said of Polk.
It wasn't all speed and bounces, though. Hogue may have scored the winning runs but it was the long relief pitching of Michael Busby that kept the Bulldogs in contention. Entering with one out and sacks stuffed in just the second inning, the freshman righthander minimized the damage there to one run and put in an efficient, as well as unplanned, 6.2 innings. "I wasn't expecting to throw go early, but I'm glad I was prepared," said Busby. He was charged with the other UG run and three walks against eight strikeouts.
"Busby was the key," Polk said. "We gave them every opportunity early, walked five. In the past when we've done that we've been behind 5-0 or 6-0, but somehow we got out. That just helped us a lot and Busby came in and did a heck of a job."
State starter Tyler Whitney had a tough and short stint of his own making mostly, walking two in the first inning and three more in the second around a sacrifice bunt. Busby was handed the one-out jam, and order-topper Ryan Peisal didn't wait around to swing as he took Busby's first pitch into centerfield for a RBI-single.
Busby responded by catching Demperio looking at strike three, and shortstop Sneed kept the damage at 1-0 with a nice running scoop and throw. "I was coming in trying to pump strikes and get us out of the inning," Busby said. "It was a big part of the game right there, luckily I got two big outs."
It took State three turns to hit UG starter Trevor Holder, though he did give a second-inning walk erased on a double-play. SS Russ Sneed made the first contact, dropping a double behind the centerfielder and taking third on a foul-fly just close enough to the leftfield fence for the tag. 2B Jet Butler did the RBI honors with a single down the third-base line.
Peisel had another RBI opportunity after Busby walked Massanari and plunked Adam Fuller. The UG third baseman lifted one that rightfielder Ryan Collins couldn't quite get, landing awkwardly in the attempt. But lead runner Massanari had to wait and watch, then tried to come on home. Collins was able to get the ball in to Sneed for the relay and easy tag by Ryan Duffy. Collins showed no ill effects catching an inning-ender, either.
After State left runners at first and third in their fourth Georgia got the go-ahead score. Beckham took a pitch off the back to reach and got to run all the way around when centerfielder Grant Hogue unwisely dove at Olson's sinking liner. It hopped by and to the wall for a RBI-triple. Yet Hogue immediately made up for the fielding miscue on offense, legging out an infield single with two down and stealing his way to second—his 15th theft of the season. So Collins re-tied the tally at 2-2 with a base hit into rightfield.
Weaver kept it even by stranding two in the MSU seventh and another in the eighth. Meanwhile Busby retired ten-straight through eight; technically he walked Massanari with two-down in the eighth but C Ryan Duffy took care of that by gunning the UG Dog down at second.
"I felt like the ball was coming out of my hand good," Busby said. "The curveball felt good, it took a while to get my rhythm but I felt good once I got going." And going, and going, until the top of the ninth when it was Chad Crosswhite's turn. The starter-returned-to-reliever rolled three ground-ball outs for one frame, with a fly ball and two strikeouts to end UG's offensive evening. Crosswhite also got the decision, improving to 2-2 while Fields is 0-1.
"Now that we've won I hoped the game would go another five or six innings so they'd burn Fields for the whole weekend," quipped Polk, before the whole post-game conference turned to his own situation. Still by 2:00 Saturday the attention is entirely back on the Bulldogs and Bulldogs for game-two. State will throw righthander Lee Swindle (2-1, 3.63).