As one of three seniors on The Citadel’s baseball roster, Austin Pritcher is among the few Bulldogs with clear memories of the team’s last Southern Conference championship.
February15 – George Mason, 4 p.m.; 16 – Kansas State, 4 p.m.; 17 – High Point, 1:30 p.m.; 20 – Winthrop, 6 p.m.; 22 – at North Florida, 6 p.m.; 23 – at North Florida, 1 p.m.; 24 – at North Florida, 1 p.m.; 26 – UNC Asheville, 4 p.m.; 27 – at Charleston Southern, 2 p.m.March1 – Pittsburgh, 4 p.m.; 2 – VCU, 4 p.m.; 3 – UNC Asheville, 2:30 p.m.; 5 – at Winthrop, 6 p.m.; 8 – Samford, 6 p.m.; 9 – Samford, 4 p.m.; 10 – Samford, 1 p.m.; 12 – Akron, 6 p.m.; 13 – Akron, 6 p.m.; 15 – at Wofford, 6 p.m.; 16 – at Wofford, 3 p.m.; 17 – at Wofford, 1 p.m.; 19 – South Carolina, 7 p.m.; 20 – at College of Charleston, 6 p.m.; 22 – Charleston Southern, 6 p.m.; 23 – at Charleston Southern, 2 p.m.; 24 – Charleston Southern, 1 p.m.; 26 – at Georgia Tech, 4 p.m.; 29 – at Western Carolina, 5 p.m.; 30 – at Western Carolina, 2 p.m.; 31 – at Western Carolina, 1 p.m.April2 – Coastal Carolina, 6 p.m.; 5 – Elon, 6 p.m.; 6 – Elon, 2 p.m.; 7 – Elon, 1 p.m.; 9 – at South Carolina, 7 p.m.; 12 – at Georgia Southern, 6 p.m.; 13 – at Georgia Southern, 2:30 p.m.; 14 – at Georgia Southern, 1:30 p.m.; 17 – East Tennessee State, 4 p.m.; 19 – Appalachian State, 6 p.m.; 20 – App State, 2 p.m.; 21 – App State, 1 p.m.; 26 – at Furman, 6 p.m.; 27 – at Furman, 4 p.m.; 28 – at Furman, 1 p.m.May1 – at North Carolina, 6 p.m.; 3 – Davidson, 6 p.m.; 4 – Davidson, 2 p.m.; 5 – Davidson, 1 p.m.; 10 – College of Charleston, 4 p.m.; 11 – College of Charleston, 2 p.m.; 12 – College of Charleston, 1 p.m.; 16 – at UNC Greensboro, 6 p.m.; 17 – at UNC Greensboro, 6 p.m.; 18 – at UNC Greensboro, 2 p.m.; 22-26 – SoCon tournament, Greenville.
“I was telling someone the other day, I’ve got that 2010 feeling again,” said the senior pitcher from James Island, recalling The Citadel’s regular season and tournament titles three years ago. “There’s something about our team chemistry and the way everybody carries themselves on the field this year, it’s something you see in championship teams.
2012 RECORD: 25-33 (13-17 SoCon, T-7th)HEAD COACH: Fred Jordan (711-543, 21 years)TOP PLAYERS: RHP Austin Pritcher (6-5, 3.19 ERA); C Joe Jackson (.279, 1 HR, 26 RBIs); 2B Mason Davis (.266, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs); LHP Logan Cribb (3-4, 4.89 ERA); 1B Bo Thompson (.261, 3 HRs, 28 RBIs).TOP NEWCOMERS: RHP Skylar Hunter (Hanahan HS): LHP Nate Brecklin (Orlando, Fla.); RHP Austin Livingston (Ashley Ridge HS); RHP Austin Mason (Greer)OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs lost two of their top hitters in Nick Orvin and Justin Mackert from last year’s squad, meaning young hitters such as Bo Thompson and Mason Davis, both sophomores, must step up. Junior catcher Joe Jackson could be poised for a breakout year after a standout summer in the Cape Cod League. An injury-free season for junior OF Tyler Griffin also would help. The key will be a pitching staff, led by Austin Pritcher, that has the potential to be fairly deep.
“I feel like this team has all the bits and pieces. If we can put it all together, we can make a serious run at the championship.”
If coach Fred Jordan can pull that off in his 22nd season, it would top any of his previous 13 regular-season and tournament titles for shock value. This year’s team is picked to finish eighth in the league and landed exactly zero players on the preseason all-SoCon teams.
Since that championship season, The Citadel has finished dead last in 2011 and tied for seventh in the SoCon last year, with a 13-17 record.
And yet Jordan can’t hide a small grin when he repeats his official line about being “cautiously optimistic.”
“We played five or six freshmen last year and lost some really close games,” Jordan said. “Age doesn’t necessarily mean improvement, but with the work ethic of these guys, we’ve definitely improved.”
The Citadel batted just .239 in league play last year, and its 143 runs were third-fewest in the SoCon. And the Bulldogs lost two of their top hitters in Justin Mackert and Nick Orvin.
So the Bulldogs are not likely to transform into an offensive powerhouse this season, but Jordan thinks they can hit enough to support what should be a deep pitching staff.
Junior Joe Jackson is back at catcher after a standout season in the Cape Cod League, and should be poised for a breakout year after batting .279 a year ago. Sophomores Bo Thompson (.261) at first base and Mason Davis (.266) at second should be ready to build on solid freshman seasons.
Junior Drew DeKerlegand moves from third base to left field, which could help him return to his 2011 form at the plate (.317, 2 homers, 24 RBIs). And a full season of health from junior right-fielder Tyler Griffin (4 HRs, 30 RBIs last year) would be a boost. Center field will be manned by promising freshman Jason Smith and junior Hughston Armstrong, whom Jordan calls “the most improved player in the program.”
Sophomore Bailey Rush (.193) takes over at third base, with sophomore Jonathan Stokes (.212) at shortstop. The designated hitter spot was an issue last year; junior Calvin Orth (.264) will be counted on to solve it.
But The Citadel’s success will depend on its pitching. Pritcher, who has packed on 20 pounds of muscle since going 6-5 with a 3.19 earned-run average last year, is ready to anchor as the Friday night starter. Lefties Logan Cribb (3-4, 4.89) and Kevin Connell (1-5, 4.35) were the second and third starters last year, but they are being pushed by a trio of freshmen — lefty Nake Brecklin and righties Austin Livingston and Austin Mason, with sophomore James Reeves (6-4, 4.44) also in the mix.
Jordan said the back end of the bullpen is “the strength of the team,” so innings seven through nine should be in good hands. Freshman righty Skylar Hunter from Hanahan looks like the closer, with righties Ryan Hines, David Rivera and Zach Sherrill as set-up men and lefties Connor Walsh and Ross White ready for late-inning matchups.
There’s no overwhelming favorite in the SoCon, which ranked No. 7 in the nation in RPI last year. College of Charleston, Elon, Samford and Appalachian State all got first-place votes in the SoCon media poll.
“That’s unusual,” Jordan said. “But we’ve got five or six teams that are pretty darn good, so the league is still going to be very strong.”
The Citadel junior catcher Joe Jackson could be poised for a breakout season after batting .279 a year ago. (AP Photo/Stephen Morton)×
Sophomore second baseman Mason Davis started all 58 games and batted .266 as a freshman for The Citadel last season. (File photo).×
*** Citadel Pitcher Austin Pritcher throws against Elon Sunday at Riley Park. (Alan Hawes/postandcourier.com)×
The Citadel baseball team won the Southern Conference regular season and tournament in 2010.×