When Danny Edgeworth managed a bloop hit off of Citadel pitcher James Reeves in the fifth inning Saturday, the Mercer dugout erupted with cheers.
After all, it was the first hit the Bears had scratched out against the Southern Conference pitcher of the year in 13-plus innings this season. Reeves, a junior from Ashley Ridge High School, had no-hit Mercer on April 2; pitching on three days’ rest, he also blanked the Bears through the first four innings of Saturday’s SoCon tournament semifinal game at Riley Park.
But Edgeworth’s bloop was the beginning of the end for Reeves, for the Bulldogs’ run in the tournament and for The Citadel’s season.
Two more bloop singles and a pair of doubles — including a two-run double by SoCon player of the year Kyle Lewis — keyed a six-run fifth and carried top-seeded Mercer to an 8-1 victory and a berth in Sunday’s SoCon championship game.
“It wasn’t meant to be, no other way to explain it,” said Citadel coach Fred Jordan. “Their first hit against James in 14 innings is a flare, and then they score two more on flares, off of great pitches. They just found grass.”
The Bears (34-21) face No. 2 seed Samford in Sunday’s 2 p.m. title game on ESPN3. Wofford stayed alive with a 12-8 win over Samford on Saturday morning, but Samford routed the Terriers in the second game, 25-4.
The Citadel ended its season with a 28-30 record, the Bulldogs’ fourth losing season in the last five. But Jordan’s team went 3-2 in the tournament and finished strong with a 10-5 record in May after going 4-12 in April.
“There are no excuses in our program,” said Jordan, who wrapped his 24th season with a record of 798-632. “But I’ve never been through a season that many injuries and that much sickness in one month. I credit everybody for hanging tough and playing through it. We made a run and that’s all you can do.”
Jordan, 57, loses eight seniors off this team, with Reeves a possible draft pick as a redshirt junior. The Bulldogs started three freshmen pitchers in the tournament, and have five freshmen and sophomores in the batting order.
“I’d like to go a good many years, at least five more,” said Jordan. “Things have changed in our conference, and it’s a lot deeper than it was. We’ve got to do a better job of developing players. I really like our freshman class, and we’ve got a good freshman class coming in. It’s all about recruiting, and we’ve got to do a better job of getting quality arms like James Reeves.”
Reeves (8-4) threw 92 pitches in The Citadel’s 8-2 win over East Tennessee State in a tournament play-in game on Tuesday, and Jordan brought him back on three days’ rest to face Mercer.
The left-hander looked good through four innings, not allowing a hit and throwing only 45 pitches.
But as Mercer piled up the bloopers and a walk in the fifth — Matt Meeder had an RBI flare and Devin Bonin a two-run Texas Leaguer — Reeves’ pitch count rose quickly. Lewis, a sophomore batting .381 this season, finally reached Reeves for a solid two-run double down the left-field line, making the score 5-0 and chasing Reeves from the game.
“I felt fine,” said Reeves. “I just had some bad luck out there, I guess. I’ve got to start living better off the field or something.”
Reeves ended up throwing 82 pitches, allowing six runs on five hits, three walks and four strikeouts.
Mercer starter D.J. Johnson (2-3) entered the game with an earned-run average of 7.40 in 22 appearances, but handcuffed the Bulldogs with a collection of off-speed pitches. Edgeworth added a two-run homer in the eighth for Mercer.
The Bears, who won the SoCon regular season title after coming over from the Atlantic Sun, will be trying for their third NCAA tournament bid since 2010.