Citadel Baseball Preview: Bo Thompson is back, 20 pounds lighter and ready to hit

Citadel slugger Bo Thompson hit 14 home runs last season for the Bulldogs. (File photo)

During a recent Citadel baseball scrimmage, Bo Thompson surprised teammates and coaches by going from first to third.

COLLEGE BASEBALL PREVIEWS

Monday: Charleston Southern

Tuesday: The Citadel

Wednesday: College of Charleston

Thursday: Clemson

Friday: South Carolina

CITADEL BY THE NUMBERS

7 - Home runs Bo Thompson hit in College Home Run Derby

66 - Home runs by Citadel last year, second-most in school history

10 - Basketball and football head coaches at Citadel since Fred Jordan was hired in 1992

AT A GLANCE

2013 RECORD: 35-25 (18-12 SoCon)

COACH: Fred Jordan, 746-568 in 23rd season

TOP PLAYERS: 1B/DH Bo Thompson (.299, 14 HR, 52 RBI); OF Hughston Armstrong (.379, 1 HR, 23 RBI); 1B/DH Calvin Orth (.316, 7 HR, 33 RBI); OF Tyler Griffin (.314, 12, 52 RBI); SS Johnathan Stokes (.309, 5 HR, 52 RBI); 2B Mason Davis (.305, 5 HR, 25 RBI); OF Drew DeKerlegand (.288, 5 HR, 49 RBI); LHP Logan Cribb (4-3, 3.60 ERA); RHP Skylar Hunter (3-4. 5.35 ERA, 13 saves).

TOP NEWCOMERS: OF Austin Mapes (6-2, 190), Travelers Rest HS; RHP Zach Lavery (6-1, 175, R-Fr.), Goose Creek HS.

OUTLOOK: The Bulldogs return all but two major contributors from the team that made a run to the SoCon championship game last year, but those are two very major pieces - all-SoCon catcher Joe Jackson and SoCon pitcher of the year Austin Pritcher, both taken in the MLB Draft last year. Stepping in for Jackson will be senior Ryan Kilgallen, who played in only two games last season but was the team MVP during fall practice, and sophomore Steven Windham. Prime candidate to replace Pritcher as the staff's bell cow is senior lefty Logan Cribb, veteran of many big games with the Bulldogs. Elsewhere, the lineup is deep with veteran hitters, especially if outfielder Tyler Griffin (12 homers, 52 RBI in just 42 games) can stay healthy. The bullpen returns intact, with closer Skylar Hunter a preseason all-SoCon pick. Jordan ramped up the schedule, with seven NCAA teams from last year, including CWS team Louisville. But if the starting pitching comes through, the Bulldogs - picked second in the SoCon - could exceed those expectations.

2014 SCHEDULE

Feb. 14 - Delaware, 4 p.m.; 15 - Louisville, 2:30 p.m.; 16 - West Virginia, 1 p.m.; 18 - at USC Upstate, 4 p.m.; 21 - vs. Oklahoma at UCF, noon; 22 - vs. Ohio State at UCF; noon. 23 - at Central Florida, 2 p.m.; 25 - Rhode Island, 5 p.m.; 26 - Charlotte, 5 p.m.; 28 - Nebraska, 5 p.m.

March 1 - Nebraska, 2 p.m.; 2 - Nebraska, noon; 4 - Coastal Carolina, 6 p.m.; 5 - Toledo, 6 p.m.; 7 -at College of Charleston, 3 p.m.; 9 - College of Charleston, 1 p.m.; 14 - at Davidson, 6 p.m.; 15 - at Davidson, 2 p.m.; 16 - at Davidson, 1 p.m.; 18 - South Carolina, 6 p.m.; 19 - at Winthrop, 6 p.m.; 21 - Samford, 6 p.m.; 22 - Samford, 2 p.m.; 23 - Samford, 1 p.m.; 26 - Charleston Southern, 6 p.m.; 28 - at Elon, 6 p.m.; 29 - at Elon, 4 p.m.; 30 - at Elon, 1:30 p.m.

April 1 - at Coastal Carolina, 6 p.m.; 4 - Georgia Southern, 6 p.m.; 5 - Georgia Southern, 2 p.m.; 6 - Georgia Southern, 1 p.m.; 9 - at East Tennessee State, 7:05 p.m.; 11 - at Appalachian State, 6:30 p.m.; 12 - at Appalachian State, 3 p.m.; 13 - at Appalachian State, 1 p.m.; 18 - at Western Carolina, 5 p.m.; 19 - at Western Carolina, 2 p.m.; 20 - at Western Carolina, 1 p.m.; 22 - Winthrop, 6 p.m.; 25 - Furman, 6 p.m.; 26 - Furman, 2 p.m.; 27 - Furman, 1 p.m.

May - Wofford, 4 p.m.; 3 - Wofford, 2 p.m.; 4 - Wofford, 1 p.m.; 6 - at Charleston Southern, 6 p.m.; 8 - UNC Wilmington, 7 p.m.; 9 - UNC Wilmington, 5 p.m.; 10 - at UNC Wilmington, 2 p.m.; 13 - at South Carolina, 7 p.m.; 15 - UNCG, 4 p.m.; 16 - UNCG, 4 p.m.; 17 - UNCG, 2 p.m.; 20-25 - SoCon Tournament at Riley Park.

And no, it wasn't from his first cheeseburger to his third.

The newly "svelte" Thompson sprinted from first base to third base on a single to right field, showing off the new flexibility and speed the College Home Run Derby-certified slugger hopes to show off this season.

"I've lost 20 pounds since last season," the 5-10 Thompson announced proudly. "I'm down to around 250."

That means, of course, that Thompson tipped the scales at about 270 last season, when he batted .299 and belted 14 home runs with 52 RBIs, good enough to earn a spot in the College Home Run Derby in Omaha, Neb.

Citadel fans need not worry that coach Fred Jordan will bat Bo in the leadoff spot and give him the green light to swipe second whenever he pleases.

But they can expect the new Bo - call him Bo 2.0 - to be a bit more agile around the bag at first base and to run the bases with a tad more alacrity while still belting prodigious home runs.

"Bo can pick up the weight room," says Jordan, citing maximums of 385 in the bench press and 600 in the squat. "But he worked extremely hard with our strength and conditioning staff on flexibility, and boy, has it paid off. I joke all the time he might get a few bags (stolen bases) this year."

Thompson's appearance at the College Home Run Derby at TD Ameritrade Park, home of the College World Series, solidified his stature as one of the top sluggers in college baseball.

Thompson hit seven home runs in the Derby, four in the first round, three in the second. Rice's Michael Aquino won the Derby in front of a crowd of 23,731 people.

"One of the best experiences I've ever had," said Thompson, a junior from Mauldin. "The ballpark, the atmosphere, the guys I got to hang out with, it was great. And now I go to some places and people say, 'Hey, were you in the Home Run Derby?' "

Despite his new physique, Thompson's success this season will depend on his being the same old Bo that Citadel fans have come to love.

"His swing is so flat and short, he doesn't need to change anything," Jordan said. "He just needs to be patient like he always has, look for that mistake and let it fly."

Playing first base and designated hitter and batting in the three-hole, Thompson will anchor a veteran lineup that could threaten last year's total of 66 home runs, second-most in school history.

All-Southern Conference catcher Joe Jackson is gone to pro ball with his 13 homers and 67 RBIs, but Tyler Griffin, Calvin Orth, Mason Davis, Johnathan Stokes and Drew DeKerlegand all hit at least five homers last season, led by Griffin's 12. Davis and All-SoCon outfielder Hughston Armstrong, who hit .379 last season, will set the table for those veteran hitters.

The key to success for the Bulldogs, picked to finish second in the SoCon after falling to Elon in the title game last season, will be in the starting pitching. SoCon pitcher of the year Austin Pritcher also was drafted by MLB last year, leaving senior lefty Logan Cribb (4-3, 3.60 ERA) and junior lefty James Reeves (3-1, 4.01 ERA) as top candidates for Friday night duties.

For all the Bulldogs, the disappointment of how last season ended lingers.

"Every time we talk about it, it's tough," Thompson said. "But when we talk about it in the weight room, we get pumped up. Our goal is to make it to the Big Dance."

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