Before the season started, Citadel baseball coach Fred Jordan called Hughston Armstrong the Bulldogs’ “most improved player.”
With the Bulldogs’ season almost three-quarters complete, the junior outfielder also is making a run at MVP honors.
Armstrong went 5 for 5 and scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning Sunday at Riley Park, and The Citadel won 8-7 to sweep Appalachian State and claim its seventh straight victory.
After the Bulldogs blew a 7-4 lead in the ninth, Armstrong led off the bottom of the inning with a single up the middle. He moved to second on Joe Jackson’s sacrifice bunt and scored the game-winner on Bo Thompson’s sacrifice fly.
“Hughston has been special for us,” said Jackson, who hit a two-run home run in the Bulldogs’ three-run second inning. “He’s come up with big hits, gets on base at opportune times. I mean, that was a big, big lead-off hit in the ninth inning.”
The win improved The Citadel’s record to 24-17 overall and 12-6 in the Southern Conference, tied for second place with Elon (14-7, .667 winning percentage) behind Western Carolina (15-6, .714) in a tight race for the regular-season title.
It’s a place the Bulldogs could not expect to be after a 6-5 loss April 9 at South Carolina. The Citadel scored three times in the ninth to tie that game, only to lose it on Joey Pankake’s homer in the bottom of the ninth.
It was a dispiriting 10th loss in 13 games for the Bulldogs, who also lost power-hitting outfielder Tyler Griffin to a broken foot.
But The Citadel has not lost since that low point, rallying for three-game sweeps of Georgia Southern and App State and a midweek win over East Tennessee State.
Armstrong has hit .536 with four doubles, a home run and eight RBIs during the win streak, raising his average to a team-best .407.
But pitching has been the key to the streak. Citadel pitchers did not allow an earned run in three games at GSU, and have an ERA of 1.66 during the seven straight wins, holding foes to a .193 average.
“We’ve gotten quality starts on the weekend, and our bullpen for the most has controlled the back end of the games,” Jordan said. “We’ve gotten some timely hits and are playing pretty good baseball.”
Citadel pitchers held App State (21-15, 10-10) to one earned run through eight innings Sunday, taking a 7-4 lead into the ninth.
But two singles and an RBI double by Hector Crespo gave the Mountaineers life. Citadel closer Skylar Hunter (2-3) gave up the tying runs on a bloop double and a wild pitch, but with a runner at third struck out Noah Holmes and got Jaylin Davis to fly out to center.
That set the stage for Armstrong, who already had doubled twice and scored twice.
“He’s been really patient at the plate,” Jordan said. “He’s not afraid to go to two strikes and get the fastball, and that’s what he did there in the ninth.”
• Jordan, for one, will be sorry to see App State head to the Sun Belt Conference in 2014-15. The Citadel is 37-3 against App State in Charleston under Jordan, including a 29-2 mark at Riley Park.
• Mason Davis has hit safely in 10 straight games, and Bo Thompson, who walked three times and drove in two runs, has reached base safely in 40 straight games.