Today’s GameWho: The Citadel (27-18) at No. 1 North Carolina (41-4)When: 6 p.m.Where: Boshamer Stadium, Chapel Hill, N.C. Series: UNC leads, 24-8
On March 26, The Citadel baseball team led No. 18 Georgia Tech 4-2 in the eighth inning — and lost on a walk-off home run in the ninth.
On April 9, the Bulldogs scored three runs in the ninth inning to tie No. 8 South Carolina — and lost on a walk-off home run in the bottom of the inning.
Coach Fred Jordan’s team gets a final chance at beating a ranked opponent tonight when it takes on No. 1 North Carolina in Chapel Hill.
A victory over the Tar Heels — admittedly a long shot, as UNC is 41-4 this season — would put a shine on an improving postseason resume for the 27-18 Bulldogs, who had won 10 straight games before a 14-10 loss at Furman in a rain-delayed game that ended after midnight last Sunday.
The Citadel’s RPI rating has shot up some 41 spots over the last couple of weeks, from No. 93 to No. 52 (at boydsworld.com) heading into today’s game.
Jordan says that should get the Bulldogs into the at-large bid conversation for the 64-team NCAA tournament — if they can finish strong in their final 11 regular season games.
“I think we’ve put ourselves in position so that if we finish well, we definitely would deserve consideration,” said Jordan, whose Bulldogs last made the NCAA regionals in 2010. “If not, then we’ve got to go win the (Southern Conference) tournament. It all comes down to these last 11 games.”
The Citadel is 14-7 in the SoCon, in second place behind Western Carolina (30-17, 18-6). With a strong finish, the Bulldogs could be in a similar position to that of College of Charleston last year, when the Cougars tied for the SoCon regular season title. College of Charleston went 0-2 in the SoCon tournament, but still earned an at-large bid with an RPI of No. 51 and 37 regular-season victories, including a late-season win over Clemson.
One key difference — the SoCon was No. 7 in the RPI last year, well above this year’s No. 13 rating.
In retrospect for the Bulldogs, those walk-off losses to Georgia Tech and South Carolina loom large. They came during a fallow period when the Bulldogs lost nine of 12 games.
“Unfortunately for us, in the RPI you don’t get credit for walk-off losses,” Jordan said. “If we had gotten one of those, it would help us out now.”
A win over the Tar Heels would make up for a lot of that, but North Carolina is No. 1 for a reason. Actually, a lot of reasons.
Coach Mike Fox’s team is No. 1 in the ACC in batting (.317) and pitching (2.33 ERA) and features prospects such as junior third baseman Colin Moran (.397, 11 homers, 70 RBIs) and senior first baseman Cody Stubbs (.377, 7 homers, 60 RBIs). Freshman star Skye Bolt (.393) broke a bone in his foot April 12 and is out.
“They are just an elite club in all areas,” Jordan said of the Tar Heels. “Tremendous pitching and tremendous mid-week pitching, and defensively they are flawless. Offensively, they have tremendous speed and power. They are truly a five-tool ballclub.”
North Carolina’s four losses are to ACC foes Clemson, Miami, North Carolina State and non-conference opponent UNC Wilmington. After winning 14 straight, UNC has actually lost two of its last four, including a 9-8 mid-week loss to UNC Wilmington, ranked No. 21 at the time.
Jordan expects to see UNC’s Sunday starting pitcher, junior left-hander Hobbs Johnson, who was slated to pitch Sunday’s rained-out game against N.C. State. Johnson is 2-0 with a 3.45 ERA this season.
Regardless of how tonight’s game turns out, a strong finish in the SoCon is a must for the Bulldogs. They have three league series left, at home against Davidson (13-29, 8-16) and College of Charleston (24-19, 12-8) and at UNC Greensboro (18-26, 6-15). The Bulldogs are 21/2 games behind Western Carolina, which finishes out against Wofford (18-28, 9-15) and Appalachian State (23-16, 11-11).
“You are not going to finish below second in our league and get consideration, unless you have a couple of special teams in the league,” Jordan said. “In 2010, we had some special teams in the league and the third-place team (Elon) got in. We’ve got to finish in the top two and hope our league continues to get stronger to get the consideration we deserve.”
Free webstream and audio of tonight’s game will be available at www.goheels.com, according to UNC officials. There is a charge for the HD feed of the game.