Two days before College of Charleston was to depart for the Colonial Athletic Association baseball tournament, Cougars head coach Monte Lee reached out to an old rival.
Where: McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.
Schedule: Friday - No. 2 Long Beach State (32-24) vs. No. 3 North Carolina (34-25), 1 p.m. (ESPN3)
No. 1 Florida (40-21) vs. No. 4 College of Charleston (41-17), 7 p.m. (ESPN3)
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On his way to practice that morning, Lee texted Citadel baseball coach Fred Jordan to see if he had a few minutes to talk later that day.
In his 23rd season as the Bulldogs head coach, Jordan has won more than 700 games, including seven Southern Conference tournament titles. The Citadel, which has been runners-up in the SoCon tournament another five times, has been to the championship round on a dozen occasions under Jordan. In all, Jordan is 60-29 (.674 winning percentage) in SoCon tournament games.
Lee has not enjoyed the same kind of success in the postseason.
Despite earning two at-large bids to the NCAA tournament in five years under Lee, the Cougars hadn't won a conference tournament title during his short reign. In 2012 and 2013, the Cougars had been a two-and-done team at the SoCon tournament.
"You look at the success coach Jordan has had, especially in the conference tournaments, and it's an amazing record," Lee said. "Coach Jordan just knows how to prepare his teams for success in the tournaments and we haven't had that much success in the tournaments. I wanted to pick his brain and see what he does, how he approaches the tournament, and why he has so much success."
Jordan, who himself was only a few days away from opening up the Southern Conference tournament at Riley Park, had his own issues to worry about, but agreed to get back to Lee. The two talked for 30 minutes with Jordan passing along knowledge and experience.
"We go about things a little differently when we're preparing for a tournament," Jordan said. "Over the years, I've had a few coaches call me and ask me what we do and how we prepare, and I've been more than happy to share that information with them."
The fact that it was Lee, the Bulldogs arch-rival asking for guidance, didn't seem to faze Jordan.
"Now, if we were still in the Southern Conference, then I probably wouldn't have called Monte back," Jordan said with a chuckle. "I consider Monte a good friend. But I've learned as a head coach that you can't do it alone. You're going to need help. I've used other coaches as sounding boards to bounce ideas off of in the past. As coaches, we share ideas all the time. Coaching is a pretty small fraternity and when we're on the field, of course, you are trying to beat them. But once the game is over, once you step outside those white lines, we all get along pretty well."
Jordan's advice was simple:
Stay as loose as possible.
Score as early as possible.
Keep your players away from any distractions so they can focus on the tournament.
"It's not rocket science," Jordan said.
In the past Lee had tried to treat the SoCon tournament like any weekend series during the regular season. Lee didn't change the way the Cougars traveled, practiced or any pregame routines leading up to the tournament. He wanted to be as consistent as possible in his approach toward the postseason.
It hadn't worked.
"Coach Jordan told me how he separates the regular season from the tournament," Lee said. "How you need to have a different mindset for the tournament. His whole message to me was that we as a coaching staff have to keep the players focused strictly on baseball. There can't be any outside distractions. I thought his message was really good and I shared it with the team. I told them that we were going to approach the conference tournament a little different this year."
Knowing that the CAA was going to be a one-bid league this year, Lee understood the importance of winning the tournament.
In the past, Lee admits, he began to get a little anxious and press for results when the Cougars would trail during a tournament game. The players quickly picked up on Lee's anxiety and would begin to tighten up.
"His biggest message was to stay loose," Lee said. "You know you're going to get behind. In tournament play a lot of team really get tense and nervous when they fall behind and that tends to snowball. He just told me to keep the guys loose. You don't want them to press, you want them to be confident when they get to the plate."
Lee was forced to put Jordan's simple philosophy into action in the Cougars first CAA tournament game against UNC Wilmington. Trailing 4-1 going into the bottom of the fifth, Lee gathered the team together to reassure them that they were still capable of winning the game.
"He told us there was still plenty of baseball left to be played and not to worry about it," said College of Charleston outfielder Brandon Murray. "He seemed so cool and confident that I think he made us all believe we were going to win."
The Cougars would go on to score four runs in their next at bat, three coming on a home run by Carl Wise, and take a 5-4 lead.
The Cougars would never trail the rest of the tournament, beating William & Mary in back-to-back games over the final two days to capture their first conference title since 2006. If the Cougars make it out of this weekend's Gainesville Regional, Lee said Jordan will deserve some of the credit.
"I applied what coach Jordan told me and it worked," Lee said. "He didn't have to share what he's learned with me, but he did and I think that shows you the kind of class he has as an individual. I always had a tremendous amount of respect for coach Jordan, but this just made me respect him even more."
sports- College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee. (photo provided by CofC athletics). ¬ ¬ Published Caption 4/7/09: College of Charleston baseball coach Monte Lee: 'I'm looking forward to see how we bounce back after a tough weekend.' ¬ ¬ Published Caption 6/30/10: ?IT?S PERSONAL FOR ME?: It?s not just Gamecocks who are celebrating this morning. USC?s national ¬ championship carries meaning for College of Charleston?s Monte Lee, a former assistant to Ray Tanner. 5C ¬ ¬ Published Caption 5/13/11: Lee×
Citadel Baseball Coach Fred Jordan talks to the umpires before the SOCON Tournament game against Elon Tuesday. (Brad Nettles/Staff) 5/20/14×