Charleston Southern and The Citadel met Tuesday at Riley Park, but baseball coaches from both schools have their eyes trained on May.
That’s when conference tournaments will decide the ultimate fate of the 2013 season for both clubs. The Citadel’s 8-5 win over CSU included some encouraging signs for the Bulldogs, who have won eight straight, and not as many for the Buccaneers.
Pitching depth and a return to good health for slugging first baseman Bo Thompson will be key for The Citadel (24-17) in next month’s Southern Conference tournament in Greenville, and there was good news on both fronts.
Freshman pitcher Austin Livingston (4-0), who as the Bulldogs’ fourth starter could play a key role in Greenville, worked a season-high five innings in the latest in a string of solid outings.
And Thompson, relegated to designated hitter for much of the season, returned to first base for the first time since injuring his ankle on March 2. The sophomore looked a little rusty in the field, but extended his streak of games in which he has reached base to 41 straight, going 1 for 4 with a walk.
“With Bo back, maybe at 90 percent, it gives us a chance to put Calvin Orth at third base and try to find somebody left-handed for the DH spot,” coach Fred Jordan said.
Orth was 4 for 4 with two RBIs against CSU (17-24), finishing a home run short of the cycle. He rebounded nicely from a frustrating Sunday, when he struck out twice with the bases loaded against Appalachian State.
“That really stunk,” Orth said. “When you have a chance to get some RBIs for your team and you don’t go through, that’s tough. But I worked on some things and was able to get something going today.”
Johnathan Stokes drove in three runs to back the pitching of Livingston, a 6-1, 200-pound right-hander from Ashley Ridge High School. He worked five innings for the first time in his college career, allowing five hits and two earned runs with one walk and five strikeouts.
The Bucs, meanwhile, are focused on just making the Big South tournament, which will include the top eight teams in the league next month at Liberty. CSU is tied for that eighth spot with Gardner-Webb at 7-8, with three-game series left at Winthrop, at Radford and at home against Coastal Carolina.
Coach Stuart Lake figures the Bucs need to have a winning mark in those games, a tough task given the Bucs’ 0-6 record in Big South road games.
“We feel like we’ve got to go 5-4 at least, and hopefully get some breaks from other people,” said Lake, who got two RBIs each from Chase Shelton and John Faircloth. “We feel like we’ve got to take care of our own business.”
The Citadel built a 7-1 lead through five innings before the Bucs scored four runs in the sixth, keyed by Shelton’s two-run double. But Citadel relievers Ross White, David Rivera and Skylar Hunter held the Bucs there for the final three innings, with Hunter earning his 11th save.
The Citadel is at Furman for three games starting Friday, while CSU is off for exams until a game next Wednesday at Georgia Southern.