Say this about The Citadel baseball team's 1-5 start in Southern Conference play: It's been a team effort.
As in an 8-3 loss to Samford on Sunday at Riley Park, the Bulldogs aren't doing anything quite well enough yet to live up to their preseason billing as the No. 2 team in the SoCon.
"We need to play better in all phases," said Citadel coach Fred Jordan, whose club slipped to 10-14 overall and has been swept by Davidson and lost two of three to Samford in SoCon play. "Pitching, hitting, defense. The game is testing these guys right now, but they are strong, they are resilient. They will bounce back and there is a lot of baseball left to be played."
Sunday's loss to Samford (13-10, 2-1) revealed all of The Citadel's struggles. The Citadel managed only four hits, all of them off of Samford starter Alex Milazzo (3-1), who entered with an earned-run average of 6.97. A two-base error, a wild pitch and two walks from reliever Kevin Connell helped Samford break open the game with four runs in the sixth.
The Citadel got a good start from pitcher Logan Cribb in Friday's 5-3 loss, and an excellent one from James Reeves in Saturday's 4-2 win. On Sunday, sophomore right-hander Austin Mason (1-1) made his first weekend start as he comes back from shoulder surgery and allowed three runs on four hits, two walks and two strikeouts in four innings.
"We're struggling right now in middle relief," Jordan said. "We got good starts in game one and game two, and Mason gave us about what we expected today as he comes back. We just walked too many guys there in the middle innings."
Neither is The Citadel scoring enough runs, totaling 10 for the series with Samford and averaging 3.6 in six SoCon games so far. At .326, second baseman Mason Davis is the only starter batting above .300; last year, six regulars hit above .300 as the Bulldogs went 18-12 in SoCon play, with first baseman Bo Thompson at .299.
"Offensively, we are really kind of trying to find ourselves," Jordan said. "We've got some guys who are struggling, and you go through that. I'd rather do it early than late. These guys have hit before and we know that they will hit again."
Calvin Orth hit his first homer of the season in the third for The Citadel. Down 7-2 in the sixth, The Citadel had a chance to rally with the bases loaded and no outs. Connor Walsh hammered a ball to the fence in right field, but Samford's Heath Quinn made great catch against the wall. Bo Thompson scored from third, but on an appeal play, the umpires ruled that Tyler Griffin did not tag up at second, the double play blunting The Citadel's rally.
"A huge momentum shift," Jordan said.
The Citadel hosts Coastal Carolina on Tuesday and Charleston Southern on Wednesday. The Bulldogs' next to SoCon series are at Elon this weekend and at home to Georgia Southern April 4-6.