Raise your hand if you had The Citadel and Elon -- picked to finish second and fourth, respectively, by Southern Conference coaches -- facing off in a SoCon Tournament play-in game.
Yeah, neither did Bulldogs baseball coach Fred Jordan.
But that's where the No. 10 seed The Citadel (23-32, 8-18) and No. 7 Elon (27-25, 12-15) find themselves as the SoCon Tournament begins Tuesday at Riley Park. The winners of The Citadel/Elon game at 3:30 p.m. and the noon game between No. 8 Furman and No. 9 UNC Greensboro will advance to the double-elimination part of the tournament, which begins Wednesday.
"It's a new beginning for everybody in the league," said Jordan, whose club has finished last in the SoCon's regular season in two of the last four years. "The league has been very strange this year, but it's tournament time now."
Indeed, The Citadel and Elon are not the only picks the league's coaches (and media) whiffed on before the season. Davidson, picked to finish dead last by the coaches, had a shot at the regular-season title heading into the final weekend, and at 28-17 overall and 17-8 in the SoCon earned the No. 2 seed and a coach of the year award for Dick Cooke.
Regular-season champion Western Carolina (37-16, 20-6) did live up to its No. 1 billing, and with an RPI of No. 40 could earn an at-large berth in the 64-team NCAA tournament with a deep run this week. The winner of Sunday's 2 p.m. championship game (ESPN3) will earn at automatic bid to the regionals.
The Citadel has played in the NCAA tournament 13 times, the latest time in 2010. But a 14th appearance this season would require an unprecedented feat; the Bulldogs were seeded No. 5 when they won the SoCon tourney in 1994, and the lowest seeded team to win the SoCon title was No. 9 Wofford in 2007.
But the Bulldogs did show some signs of life last weekend, staging two comeback victories on Saturday to sweep a three-game series from UNCG, scoring 34 runs during their only SoCon season sweep of the season.
"We had a good day offensively on Saturday," Jordan said. "But really, we've played well the last three weeks."
Senior lefty Logan Cribb (4-4, 4.14 ERA) will get the start in Tuesday's must-win game against Elon. He's worked until at least the seventh inning in four of his last five starts, excluding a pitch-count start against UNCG last week. But with junior lefty James Reeves out with an elbow injury -- he'll get a medical redshirt this season, Jordan said. -- the starting pitching behind Cribb has been shaky.
Austin Livingston (2-7, 8.73 ERA) and Kevin Connell (0-3, 10.16) ERA got the weekend starts against UNCG, and any sort of SoCon tournament run will require a whole-staff effort from the Bulldogs.
Left fielder Drew DeKerlegand (.340, 3 homers, 25 RBI) and designated hitter Bo Thompson (.312, 8 HR< 40 RBI) were the only Bulldogs to make all-SoCon teams named Monday. Second Mason Davis hit .308 with 26 stolen bases, and right fielder Tyler Griffin had seven home runs and a team-best 48 RBI.
"We just never got our pitching and hitting hot at the same time," said Thompson. "But it's like coach said, now it's the tournament and everybody's hitting 1.000 and everybody's ERA is 0.00. It's a chance to start over."
Elon outfielder Casey Jones was named the league's co-player of the year by coaches, hitting .422 with 20 doubles, six homers and 52 RBI.
. Coaches all-SoCon team: Co-Players of the Year - Forrest Brandt, Sr., OF, Davidson; Casey Jones, Jr., OF, Elon; Pitcher of the Year - Josh Wirsu, Jr., RHP, Georgia Southern; Freshman of the Year - Heath Quinn, OF, Samford; Coach of the Year - Dick Cooke, Davidson.
First Team: SP Josh Wirsu, Georgia Southern; SP Jordan Smith, Western Carolina; RP Andres Gracia, Samford; C Adam Martin, Western Carolina; 1B Jacob Hoyle, Western Carolina; 2B Hunter King, UNCG; 2B Bradley Strong, Western Carolina; SS Dillon Dobson, Appalachian State; SS Hunter Burton, Furman; 3B Sean Guite, UNCG; OF Forrest Brandt, Davidson; OF Lee Miller, Davidson; OF Casey Jones, Elon; DH Ryan Lowe, Davidson.
. Media all-SoCon team: Player of the Year - Casey Jones, Jr., OF, Elon; Pitcher of the Year - Josh Wirsu, Jr., RHP, Georgia Southern; Freshman of the Year - Heath Quinn, OF, Samford; Coach of the Year - Dick Cooke, Davidson.
First Team: SP Josh Wirsu, Georgia Southern; SP Jordan Smith, Western Carolina; RP Andres Gracia, Samford; C Adam Martin, Western Carolina;
1B Jacob Hoyle, Western Carolina; 2B Michael Pierson, Appalachian State; SS Tyler Filliben, Samford; 3B David Daniels, Davidson; OF Drew DeKerlegand, The Citadel; OF Forrest Brandt, Davidson; OF Casey Jones, Elon; DH Ryan Lowe, Davidson.