After failing to qualify for the Southern Conference baseball tournament last year, The Citadel Bulldogs made it their mission to get in this season.
They did so, squeezing in as the No. 7 seed in the eight-team tournament, and will face No. 2 College of Charleston in the opening game at 10 a.m. Wednesday at Greenville’s Fluor Field.
But now that they are in, the question becomes: Can the Bulldogs win?
“The tournament is a special place,” said junior pitcher Austin Pritcher, who will start for the Bulldogs against the Cougars. “Anything can happen. We’ve just got to play hard and smart, not get too down when things go wrong or too up when they go well.”
History shows that the underdog has a chance in the SoCon tournament, which is back in Greenville for the second time (the first was in 2009). Wofford won the tourney as a No. 9 seed in 2007, and Furman was a No. 8 seed when it won in 2005.
The Citadel, which has won eight SoCon tournament championships, was a No. 5 seed when it won in 1994. Over the past eight years, the top-seeded team — this year, that’s Appalachian State — has won only twice.
“We’ve just got to go play,” said coach Fred Jordan, whose team finished 13-17 in the SoCon and 24-31 overall. “And we’ve got to get some timely hits. When we played College of Charleston during the season, they were three very good games. They got the two-out hits, and that was the difference in the games.”
The Cougars (37-18, 21-9) won three games from the Bulldogs during the season, by scores of 8-4, 7-2 and 6-5. Pritcher (6-5, 3.21 ERA) worked the opening game, allowing six earned runs on 11 hits in 42/3 innings.
“I’m going to try to change some things up,” Pritcher said. “I’ve looked at their hitters and what they were looking for. We’ll have a different game plan, and we’ll be ready.”
Said Jordan, “He’s just got to not try to do too much. I think he tried to do a bit too much in that Friday game and got himself into some jams.”
The Citadel won six of eight games down the stretch, including four in a row, to clinch its spot in the tournament before getting swept in a season-ending series at Elon. Two of the games were close, but Citadel pitchers walked 14 batters in an 18-5 loss in the middle game.
“Coach got into us pretty good after that game,” Pritcher said. “Once we clinched, I think we slowed down a little. But I think last weekend really woke the guys up, and I think we’ve settled down and are ready to go.”
The Citadel is 3-3 against the Cougars in the tournament, but the teams haven’t met in the tourney since 2006, when College of Charleston won its first and only title by a 5-4 score in the championship game.
“We love playing those guys,” Pritcher said. “It should be fun.”