This weekend’s series between The Citadel and College of Charleston won’t mark the end of the best baseball rivalry in town.
Both Bulldogs coach Fred Jordan and the Cougars’ Monte Lee pledge that the teams will play in the future, after College of Charleston leaves the Southern Conference for the Colonial Athletic Association next year.
“The baseball is too good, and we’re too close together not to play,” said Jordan, whose Bulldogs host the Cougars starting today at Riley Park.
But the three-game series does mark the final regular season meeting between the schools as SoCon rivals. In 15 years together in the SoCon, since College of Charleston joined in 1999, the programs have combined for eight regular season titles (four each), five tournament championships (four by The Citadel) and nine NCAA tournament appearances (five for the Cougars).
This weekend, the Bulldogs (28-21, 15-9) and Cougars (26-22, 14-9) are scrambling for position in the SoCon tournament, which both teams almost certainly need to win to make the NCAA regionals.
No matter what the future holds, their rivalry won’t be quite the same as when the Bulldogs and Cougars were chasing the same trophy and the same precious NCAA bids.
The Cougars and Bulldogs met four times in the high-stakes atmosphere of the SoCon tournament, but only once with the title on the line.
That was in 2006, when coach John Pawlowski’s Cougars won 5-4 before 4,462 fans at Riley Park to claim their only SoCon tournament title (so far).
That Charleston team went on to win an NCAA regional title, falling to a Matt Wieters-led Georgia Tech team in the super regional.
“That’s the one that sticks out in my mind,” Jordan said. “Brett Gardner made two unbelievable diving catches in the outfield, and they won the tournament. That was part of a pretty good run over there.”
That was the third of three straight NCAA appearances for the Cougars.
The 10 largest crowds in SoCon tournament history all involved The Citadel at the Bulldogs’ home field, Riley Park. Four of those also included College of Charleston, including a record throng of 5,419 to witness an 8-2 Citadel win in 2003.
The others: No.4 — 4,892 fans saw the first tournament meeting between the teams in 1999, won 4-3 by The Citadel. No. 7 — The Cougars’ trophy-clinching win in 2006, before 4,462 fans. No. 10 — The Citadel won, 6-3, before 4,127 in 2000; Furman eliminated both teams on its way to the title.
Since 1999, the programs have produced 17 SoCon players and pitchers of the year, six for The Citadel and 11 for College of Charleston. Ironically, that list does not include the best major league player produced during that time, former walk-on Brett Gardner — whom the Cougars cut twice — and who now plays centerfield for the Yankees.
An all-Citadel team for the 15-year era: 1B Phil Hartig, 2B Bryan Altman, 3B Chris Ard, SS Matt Matulia, C Richard Jones, OF Nick Orvin, OF Chris Swauger, OF Sonny Meade, DH Chip Cannon, UTIL Dallas McPherson, SP Brian Wiley, SP Wes Wrenn, SP Asher Wojciechowski, SP Jon Ellis, RP Jay Morgan, RP Randy Corn.
An all-CofC team for the 15-year era: 1B Michael Harrington, 2B Chris Campbell, 3B Lee Curtis, SS Oliver Marmol, C Alex Garabedian, OF Brett Gardner, OF Phillip Coker, OF Marty Gantt, DH Matt Leeds, UTIL Joey Bergman, SP Nick Chigges, SP Ryan Johnson, SP Christian Powell, SP Danny Meszaros, RP Brett Harker, RP Josh McLaughlin.
• The Bulldogs plan to start pitchers Austin Pritcher (6-2, 2.56 ERA), Logan Cribb (3-3, 3.54) and Austin Mason (3-3, 6.40). The Cougars will counter with Jake Zokan (3-1, 2.57), Ryan West (4-1, 4.28) and Matt Pegler (3-2, 3.55).
• The games, set for 4 p.m. today, 2 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, can be heard on WQNT 1450-AM.