James Reeves has had the conversation with himself on the mound almost every game.
“It is kind of a joke in my head,” Reeves said. “I’ll give up a hit in the second or third inning and say, ‘Oh, there goes my no-hitter.’ ”
On Thursday night, those words were never said.
The former Ashley Ridge High School two-sport star tossed the first Citadel no-hitter in 13 years and tied his season high with 14 strikeouts as the Bulldogs blanked Mercer, 4-0, in the opening game of a Southern Conference baseball series Thursday night at Riley Park.
“I guess I started realizing it in about the sixth or seventh inning,” said Reeves, who allowed five walks. “I have a lot of good guys behind me and I was just trying to throw it in there and let them play with it a little bit.”
The no-hitter was the sixth in school history and the first since T.A. Fulmer accomplished the feat against East Tennessee State on March 29, 2002. Reeves (5-1) also struck out 14 in his first start of the season against Air Force and came within one of his career high set against Davidson in 2014.
In addition to winning his 17th career game, the most by any active SoCon pitcher, Reeves lowered his season ERA to 2.83 and increased his strikeout total to 62 in 472/3 innings.
“James Reeves was outstanding tonight,” Citadel coach Fred Jordan said. “He was able to pitch to both sides of the plate and he located his slider really well.
“To accomplish what he did and what he was able to do tonight is an outstanding achievement. And we played pretty good defense behind him,” added Jordan.
The win snapped a six-game losing streak for The Citadel (15-13, 1-3 SoCon). Mercer (18-13, 5-2) was playing only its fourth game against the Bulldogs since 1991.
“To win the opener of a SoCon series is always a challenge, and that’s what we wanted to do,” Jordan said. “So hopefully we can sneak another win out and win this series.”
Reeves, a redshirt junior left-hander, was in control all night, allowing only three Bears to get into scoring position, one of those coming on a two-base error in the fourth, and Mercer did not have more than one runner on base in any inning.
“I just went out there and really trusted my pitching coach Britt Reames and my catcher Ryan Kilgallen,” Reeves said. “So it was a great job on their part breaking down hitters and telling me what to throw.”
Reeves walked Charlie Madden to lead off the ninth before striking out Howard Joe and Danny Edgeworth. On a 2-2 pitch, Jackson Ware hit a foul pop-up that second baseman Jacob Watcher ran down in The Citadel bullpen to set off a celebration in front of the Bulldogs dugout.
Mercer entered the game as the second-leading scoring team in the SoCon with 190 runs and was third in the nation in home runs with 37.
The series continues with games on Friday at 5 p.m. and Saturday at 1 p.m.
“I think it was a big win tonight for the team,” Reeves said. “ We need to get rolling and win a few games and see what happens from there on.”
The Bulldogs scored the only run Reeves would need in the first. Austin Mapes singled and Drew Ellis walked and were at first and second with two outs when Stephen Windham drove a double into the gap in left center. Mapes scored easily, but Ellis was gunned down at the plate keeping it to a one-run inning.
It appeared Reeves and Mercer starter Danny Nyquist were headed to a classic pitcher’s duel before The Citadel opened up a working margin in the fourth. Ellis doubled, Connor Walsh walked and Windham placed a perfect bunt between the mound and third base line to load the bases with nobody out.
Jason Smith bounced a single through the right side to make it 2-0, and one out later William Kinney lined a single into right-center to drive home two more. Smith extended his streak of consecutive games reaching base to 19, while Windham had three of The Citadel’s seven base hits.
Nyquist went six innings and allowed all seven hits and runs. He entered the game leading the SoCon with an opponent batting average of .151 and was third in the league with a 2.15 ERA.