Citadel, Georgia Southern, College of Charleston await SoCon fate

Brad Felder (center) and The Citadel can claim the outright Southern Conference regular season baseball title with two wins during their upcoming conference three-game series against Georgia Southern.

Expectations were modest this season for a Citadel baseball team picked to finish third or fourth in the Southern Conference after losing a school-record four players to the major league draft.

But entering the final weekend of the regular season, the Bulldogs control their own fate with regard to a SoCon regular season championship and the top seed for next week's SoCon Tournament at Riley Park.

The Citadel (35-20, 21-6 SoCon) can earn an outright title with two victories during its three-game series at Georgia Southern (34-19, 19-8) starting today, or a share of the title with one victory.

Either way, it will mark the Bulldogs' first regular season title since 2002, the military school's longest such drought since The Citadel went 11 years between regular season championships in 1960 and 1971.

"We've just got to play our game and worry about us," senior second baseman Bryan Altman said. "That's all we are really concerned about this weekend. We know that no team is going to be easy to beat, especially this time of year."

Meanwhile, rival College of Charleston can only monitor the scoreboard and pull for Georgia Southern to beat The Citadel at least twice.

The Cougars (40-14, 22-8 SoCon) already have wrapped up their SoCon slate and finish the regular season with two games against non-conference foe UNC Wilmington today and Saturday.

College of Charleston all but locked up an at-large bid to the NCAA Regionals with a 10-4 victory at fifth-ranked Coastal Carolina on Tuesday. The Cougars could share the SoCon's regular season title with either The Citadel or Georgia Southern, and would earn the tourney's top seed either way.

"That had to be one of the biggest wins in our history, to get to 40 wins and beat a (No. 5-ranked) team in the country," Cougars coach Monte Lee said of the win at Coastal Carolina. "I think it says a lot about our club and the way we are playing at this point in the season.

"I think we're in a pretty good spot. We'd like to win the SoCon championship, and I know that will be a great series between The Citadel and Georgia Southern. But it's nothing that we can really control. We have two games left, and I feel like we're playing our best ball of the season right now. I'd like to see that continue going into the tournament and hopefully the regionals."

The possible scenarios break down like this:

--The Citadel wins the outright title and No. 1 seed with at least two victories at GSU.

--If the Bulldogs win once in Statesboro, they would share the title with College of Charleston. The Cougars would earn the No. 1 seed due to its series victory over The Citadel. The Cougars have locked up at least the No. 2 seed for the SoCon tournament.

--If Georgia Southern sweeps, it would share the regular season crown with Charleston. Again, the Cougars own the tie-breaker edge over the Eagles, and The Citadel would be the third seed in that scenario.

In Georgia Southern, the Bulldogs face the hottest team in the SoCon. The Eagles have won 11 straight games, although the competition has not been the stiffest -- Furman, Alcorn State, Charleston Southern, Davidson and Jacksonville.

But Georgia Southern does own series victories over Samford and Elon. Pitcher Jake Brown (7-4, 3.96 ERA) is one of the top starters in the league, and shortstop Eric Phillips is batting .363 with seven home runs and 56 RBIs. First baseman Kyle Blackburn is among the top power hitters in the league with a .353 average, 17 homers and 72 RBIs.

For all three teams, the final games also are important for at-large bids to the NCAA Regionals.

Two wins over UNC Wilmington (29-24) would add shine to the College of Charleston's resume, while the Bulldogs and Eagles are both on the at-large bubble.

--In the Big South, Charleston Southern (17-35, 6-17) is 1 1/2 games behind UNC Asheville (15-33, 8-16) for the eighth and final berth in the league tournament. The Bucs host High Point (26-27, 12-12) this weekend, while UNC Asheville is host to Gardner-Webb (23-27, 9-15).