A Citadel baseball season that began with high hopes and big wins sputtered to an unsatisfying end Thursday as the Bulldogs were dismissed from the Southern Conference tournament.
A 4-2 loss to No. 6 seed Wofford at Riley Park ended the season for the 10th-seeded Bulldogs, who went 1-2 in the tournament and 24-33 overall, just their fourth losing season in 23 years under coach Fred Jordan.
The offseason will bring with it as much uncertainty as the military school's proud baseball team has faced in years, including a possible job change for Jordan and the state of the program, which has now suffered losing seasons in three of the last four years and finished last in the SoCon twice during that stretch.
The Bulldogs lose four senior starters from the every-day lineup, plus Friday night starter Logan Cribb from the pitching staff. Junior second baseman Mason Davis is likely to be taken high enough in the MLB Draft to give him something to think about, slugging junior Bo Thompson a bit less likely.
But the most pressing questions involve Jordan and finding a fix for the team's pitching woes; the Bulldogs finished the regular season with a staff earned-run average of 5.79, last in the SoCon.
The Citadel and school president Lt. Gen. John Rosa are looking for a new athletic director to replace Larry Leckonby, who is leaving after six years to take over as AD at Catawba College. Many Citadel supporters believe that Jordan could move over to the AD's office, just as longtime baseball coach Ray Tanner did at South Carolina.
"I have not thought anything about that," said Jordan, who is 56 and has three years left on his current contract. "That's something I will sit down and think about and try to weigh through it and see what happens. Obviously, that's Gen. Rosa's decision and we will cross that bridge in time."
Meanwhile, Jordan and pitching coach Britt Reames will set about improving a pitching staff that, during fall practice, Jordan saw as a team strength. The Bulldogs were picked to finish second in the SoCon and on opening weekend defeated 2013 College World Series team Louisville and Virginia Tech of the ACC.
But sophomore lefty James Reeves (3-2, 3.40 ERA) went down with an elbow injury after just seven starts, and the staff struggled to an ERA of 6.50 in league play, walking a SoCon-high 121 batters in 26 conference games.
"This season was something out of the norm for us," Jordan said. "Our pitchers lost a lot of confidence in themselves over a six-week stretch, and we had to fight through that. But they will be better because of it. In the fall, I really thought pitching was going to be our strength."
Against Wofford (31-27), the Bulldogs fell behind quickly for the third tournament game in a row. The Terriers scored twice in the first inning against sophomore pitcher Austin Livingston (2-8), including a controversial call at the plate on a double steal. Jordan came close to getting ejected by home plate umpire Randy Vestal, but a replay showed Wofford runner James Plaisted did touch home plate on the play.
The Bulldogs had nine hits, five walks and three hit batters, but stranded 13 runners on base while getting one thrown out at the plate and another picked off second base. Thompson got the Bulldogs to within 4-2 in the seventh with his ninth home run.
In the ninth, the Bulldogs got two runners on with no out before Wofford closer Eric Eck struck out Tyler Griffin, Drew DeKerlegand and Jonathan Stokes.
All three went down swinging.
"I love these boys," Thompson said afterwards. "We are a tough group of guys. There's not another team I'd rather share a season with."
The Terriers matched a school record for wins in a season and survived to face the Davidson-Samford loser on Friday.