The Citadel has endured the worst season in the Bulldogs' proud baseball history this year, losing 22 straight games at one point and posting the program's worst overall and Southern Conference records.
The second year of coach Tony Skole's rebuilding effort has resulted in a 13-42 overall record (.236 winning percentage) and a 5-19 SoCon mark (.208) that are the worst since the school began keeping records in 1965.
"Excruciating," is how Skole, a football and baseball standout during his playing days at The Citadel, puts it.
And yet, the Bulldogs arrive at the SoCon Tournament in Greenville with the closest thing to momentum they've had since March. The Citadel snapped that 22-game skid with two victories at Western Carolina on Friday and Saturday, the Bulldogs' first road wins of the season.
They open the SoCon Tournament at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Fluor Field in Greenville against that same Western Carolina team. The winner of the single-elimination game enters the double-elimination phase of the tournament against top-seeded Samford at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
"We didn't play perfect at Western Carolina by any means, but we finally did enough to win, and I just felt great for the kids," said Skole, who is 32-76 in two seasons since replacing Fred Jordan. "And that's been the difficult part for the majority of the season. We haven't been able to find ways to win and to put together nine innings of good baseball.
"We've had so many games that were tight through six or seven innings, and then we aren't good enough to finish it. A lot of that has been our own doing, as we've self-destructed a lot."
With a young roster that includes 20 first- and second-year players, the Bulldogs were derailed by injuries to outfielders Jeffrey Brown and Cam Jensen and catcher Bryce Leasure, three batters who last fall were projected as the top of the order.
Jensen missed the entire season with a wrist injury, while Brown played in 24 games before an ankle injury, and Leasure hit .301 in 31 games before being sidelined by concussions.
Bright spots? There have been a few, most notably freshman second baseman Tyler Corbitt, who led the team with a .332 batting average and made the freshman All-SoCon team.
Senior first baseman Ben Peden made second-team All-SoCon after batting .310 with eight homers and 36 RBIs, and football/baseball standout Ryan McCarthy batted .283 with 29 RBIs, second on the team.
"Could not be more proud of Tyler," Skole said. "He's a superstar, and I told him he should be batting in the seven or eight hole and hitting .330, not in the second or third hole as a freshman. I feel great about our young guys and young pitchers. I think there's a lot of root structure in our program right now that maybe people can't see, but they will."
The Bulldogs will start senior Jordan Merritt (3-7, 3.75 ERA), who did not pitch against WCU last weekend, against the Catamounts.
"He's rested and they haven't seen him, so we feel good about that," Skole said.
The Bulldogs aren't the only Palmetto State team that faces a must-win scenario this week.
• Clemson is the only team in the state predicted to make the NCAA Tournament's field of 64 in the latest projections from both Baseball America and DI Baseball, and the 33-23 Tigers are sneaking in as a No. 3 seed, according to both outlets. Baseball America had the Tigers as one of the last four teams in last week.
Clemson is the No. 8 seed in the ACC Tournament and begins pool play at 11 a.m. Monday against Boston College. The Tigers are No. 37 in the latest RPI ranking by Warren Nolan, but likely need a win or two to cement a spot in the NCAA regionals.
• South Carolina (28-27) avoided a losing regular season and sneaked into the SEC Tournament as a No. 12 seed by beating Mississippi State on Saturday. USC faces No. 5 seed LSU in a single-elimination game Tuesday night, with the winner heading on to the double-elimination part of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Winning the SEC Tournament to earn an NCAA bid is the longest of shots for the Gamecocks, No. 73 in the RPI. On the other hand, USC can finish with no worse than a .500 record, so that's something.
• Coach Chad Holbrook and College of Charleston have bucked the state's downward trend line with a 36-19 record and 16-8 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association. The Cougars are the No. 2 seed in the CAA Tournament in Harrisonburg, Va., and open tournament play on Thursday.
Regular season champion Elon is projected as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA regionals by Baseball American and DI Baseball, and with an RPI of No. 81, the Cougars will almost certainly have to win the CAA Tournament to gain a regional bid.
• Charleston Southern (No. 253 at 21-34) is the No. 7 seed in the Big South Tournament in Fayetteville, N.C., and faces No. 8 USC Upstate in a single-elimination game at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
• 2016 national champion Coastal Carolina (No. 77 at 30-23-1) also must win the Sun Belt Conference tournament on its home field to earn its way back into the NCAA regionals. The Chanticleers are the No. 5 seed and face No. 4 UT Arlington at 4 p.m. Wednesday.