GREENVILLE —The last time The Citadel senior pitcher T.J. Clarkson ran the bases, he was thrown out at home as a pinch runner in February.
With a first-round Southern Conference tournament game against No. 2 seed College of Charleston tied in extra innings Wednesday, Clarkson had a better outcome. He scored the go-ahead run from first on a double by right fielder Tyler Griffin, boosting the No. 7 seed Bulldogs to an 8-6 upset of the Cougars at Fluor Field.
Bulldogs coach Fred Jordan told Clarkson before his second at-bat of the season to hit it over the wall if he had to swing. The pitcher managed a ground ball to second, reaching base with one out in the top of the 11th.
“I was just trying to make sure I wasn’t going to get picked off,” Clarkson said. “He hit it and I saw he hit it far, so I was just trying to run as fast as I could.”
Griffin came home for an insurance run, but the Bulldogs wouldn’t need it. Clarkson was able to halt the Cougars’ rally, working 31/3 innings of scoreless relief after Charleston overcame a four-run deficit to tie in the bottom of the eighth.
“I thought (Clarkson) did a tremendous job of stopping the eighth by getting a groundout,” Jordan said. “He was probably as good as he’s been in the 11th, and I was concerned because he had just scored from first and all the emotions.”
Jordan doesn’t need to talk about NCAA tournament projections or RPI with his team, as the Bulldogs (25-31) are well aware that without a SoCon title and an automatic bid, the season ends after the SoCon tournament.
For College of Charleston (37-19), a team on the bubble for an NCAA tournament at-large bid with an RPI of 40, the loss hurt. It will likely need to win at least two games in the tournament to secure a bid.
“We understand where we’re at in terms of the conference tournament and also trying to put ourselves in a position to get into the postseason,” said Charleston coach Monte Lee. “We understand that we need to play well this week — I think that’s important. There’s no given that we’re going to get into the field of 64.”
Charleston got off to a sloppy start against a squad it swept in the regular season, surrendering four runs in the first two innings with three errors. After a solo home run to left by Justin Mackert gave the Bulldogs a 6-2 lead in the bottom of the eighth, the Cougars began to rally, loading the bases in the bottom of the inning.
Pinch-hitter Tyler Jackson hit a base-clearing double to make it a one-run game before center fielder Marty Gantt tied it at 6-6 with a double to bring Jackson home. The rally ultimately fell short, as Clarkson held the Cougars scoreless before Griffin’s third RBI gave The Citadel the lead for the last time.
“It’s basically do or die tomorrow,” Lee said. “I don’t think there’s anything I really need to say, as far as motivation goes. Tomorrow means everything right now.”