Picking out a signature moment in The Citadel’s run in the Southern Conference tournament is no easy task.
There’s Joe Jackson’s dramatic walk-off home run in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s 6-5 win over Appalachian State, just minutes after the Bulldogs had blown a two-run lead.
But what about Tyler Griffin’s three-run home run in the sixth inning of Thursday’s 12-11 victory over No. 1 seed Western Carolina? Griffin’s homer — his fourth in six games since returning from injury — came right after the Bulldogs had given up a five-run lead.
Defense? Against WCU, second baseman Mason Davis raced up the right-field line and made a sliding catch of a foul ball just before hitting the wall.
And then there was that stunning double play in the eighth inning Thursday night. With The Citadel clinging to a 12-11 lead and a Catamount runner at first, shortstop Johnathon Stokes ranged behind second to snare a hot shot up the middle. He flipped the ball to Davis, who caught it bare-handed and fired to first to nip the runner and keep the lead intact.
And that’s the point. Coach Fred Jordan’s fourth-seeded Bulldogs — picked to finish eighth in the SoCon this season — have needed contributions from everybody to get this far.
“The last two games, we’ve played very solid baseball in all phases,” Jordan said Friday. “Thursday’s game got a little wild with the pitching, but that ballpark was electric, with the wind blowing out. We were fortunate to get one more hit than they did that counted.”
The Bulldogs (34-24) will play at 10 a.m. today at Fluor Field in Greenville against the winner of Friday’s contest between No. 1 WCU and No. 5 Appalachian State. A win in that game sends The Citadel straight to Sunday’s title game, where the Bulldogs could win their ninth SoCon tournament title and first since 2010.
Contributions have come from all over the lineup.
Jackson, the catcher from nearby Mauldin, has been unstoppable in the tournament. He’s batting .800 with two doubles, a homer and two runs batted in, and has reached base nine times in 10 plate appearances — four hits, four walks and a hit-by-pitch. Bo Thompson, from Greenville High School, is 4 for 7 and has scored four runs. Griffin has driven in five runs and Drew DeKerlegand three.
Among pitchers, relievers Ross White and Zach Sherrll have combined for 42/3 scoreless innings.
Stokes, a sophomore from Cheraw, might have had the game of his life against WCU, going 3 for 4 with two doubles and four RBIs, in addition to the highlight-reel double play.
“It’s not an individual sport,” he said. “I just wanted to do my part for the team. When that ball was hit up the middle, I just wanted to make a play for my pitcher.”
Jordan’s attention now turns to pitching as he picks a starter for today’s game. Sophomore James Reeves (2-1, 4.20 ERA) was moved to the third-game slot for the final regular-season series at UNC Greensboro and did well. But he threw 33 pitches against WCU on Thursday, and was shelled for five runs on five hits in one inning (though he did get the victory).
Another possibility is freshman Austin Livingston (4-2, 5.09 ERA), who had been the Sunday starter until giving way to Reeves late in the season. Jordan said sophomore lefty Kevin Connell (1-2, 7.56 ERA) also could get a look, depending on matchups.
Whoever starts, it surely will take a team effort for the Bulldogs to make it to Sunday’s title game. Just ask freshman closer Skylar Hunter, who gave up the tying two-run homer against App State, and then got the final out of Thursday’s win with a strikeout.
“We’re just here to play ball,” Hunter said.