Cougars salvage finale

College of Charleston's Gunnar Heidt (2) throws to first to turn a double play, as the Citadel's Drew DeKerlegand (1) slides in to second late.(Brad Nettles/ 5/12/13

Brad Nettles

Win or lose, Monte Lee routinely holds a fairly lengthy postgame meeting with his College of Charleston baseball team. The Cougars gather around the coach in the outfield as he holds forth on the day’s events.

Saturday’s meeting ran a little long, because Lee had plenty to talk about. The Cougars had more errors (six) than runs (two) in losing the first two games of a three-game series with The Citadel.

And not just any series — it was the teams’ final series as Southern Conference rivals.

Lee’s Saturday night sermon paid off on Sunday, as the Cougars salvaged the third game of the series with a 7-5 win before 907 fans at Riley Park. College of Charleston (27-24, 15-11 SoCon) scored three runs in the first inning and five in the first three, then held off a Citadel rally.

“This game meant a lot,” said right fielder Cody Martin, whose two-out, two-run double in the first inning lifted the Cougars’ spirits. “Getting the series taken from us is hard enough; getting swept would be unacceptable. We came out with the mindset that we were going to win no matter what.”

Matt Pegler (4-2), the preseason SoCon pitcher of the year, worked 61/3 innings for the win, and Dre Watts pitched two scoreless innings for his sixth save. The Cougars snapped a four-game skid and improved to 8-1 in the final game of SoCon series this season.

The Bulldogs (30-22, 17-10) are at UNC Greensboro next weekend and have the inside track on the No. 2 seed for the SoCon tournament after Elon (18-11) lost to Samford on Sunday.

Western Carolina clinched the regular season title with a 21-6 league record, sweeping a doubleheader from Wofford on Sunday. Furman (14-16) snagged a spot in the tournament, while Wofford and UNC Greensboro were eliminated. Either Samford (11-15) or Davidson (10-17), who play each other this week, will get the eighth and final spot in the tourney, which starts May 22 in Greenville.

The Cougars, who host Georgia Southern, could also finish as high as second.

“We’ve had a tough week,” said Lee, whose team averaged barely two runs in four losses to Campbell, Georgia and The Citadel. “We struggled to score runs for a whole week, really, but we found a way to score today. We cut down on our easy outs, on fly balls, and hit some hard ground balls and line drives early. And Pegler threw the ball very well, outside of their one big inning.”

The Bulldogs had to use seven pitchers when freshman starter Austin Mason gave up five hits and five runs (three earned) in just 21/3 innings. Coach Fred Jordan may have an issue with his third starter as the SoCon tournament nears.

“Austin was wild in the strike zone, and they took advantage of it,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out that third game, if we are still around in the tournament, and for this coming weekend.”

The Citadel committed two errors and a passed ball Sunday, and failed to convert two-double play chances in the first, though neither was routine.

Down 6-1, the Bulldogs scored three times in the fifth as Hughston Armstrong stroked a two-out, two-run single. Bailey Rush’s solo homer in the seventh sliced the lead to 6-5.

But the Cougars got a vital two-out insurance run in the eighth. Devon Reed beat out an infield single, stole his first base of the season and scored on Blake Butler’s single to center.

The Cougars and Bulldogs could meet again in the SoCon tournament, and will continue to play as non-conference rivals. But after the players shook hands Sunday, Lee pondered what the Cougars’ move to the Colonial Athletic Association this summer will mean for the rivalry.

“It does make it special when your rival is in your own conference,” he said. “It will continue to be a rivalry no matter what conferences we are in. But it does make it special to play your rival in conference play.

“Heck, South Carolina and Clemson play in different conferences, and that’s a good rivalry. And this is a good rivalry, a healthy rivalry, and it will continue to be.”

The Citadel’s Bo Thompson snapped an 0-for-27 skid with an RBI single in the fourth … The Cougars scored six of their seven runs with two outs … C of C has not been swept in a SoCon series since 2009 … Charleston hosts Jacksonville on Tuesday, while The Citadel is at Charleston Southern.