Youth fuels Citadel run to SoCon berth

Freshman Bo Thompson drove in three runs for The Citadel on Sunday, but the Bulldog lost by 8-6 to Furman in 12 innings. (Photo provided)

There are freshmen all over the infield for The Citadel’s baseball team these days. And it’s no accident that the youth movement has coincided with the Bulldogs’ run to a spot in the Southern Conference tournament.

Coach Fred Jordan started an all-freshman infield on Sunday for the fourth game in a row and the fifth time in the last eight games. The Bulldogs lost 8-6 in 12 innings to Furman at Riley Park, but took two of three from the Paladins over the weekend to secure a berth in the SoCon tournament.

The Citadel (24-28, 13-14) has won six of its last nine games and can finish as high as fifth in the SoCon, depending on how it fares in the season-ending series at Elon (28-24, 17-10) starting Wednesday.

“It’s a huge relief to know we are in the tournament,” said senior center fielder Nick Orvin, who was 3 for 6 and scored twice in Sunday’s game. “Since we missed it last year, that’s been our main goal all season. We just want to be able to keep playing and see where it takes us.”

The Bulldogs’ young infield has taken the team to some good places in recent games. Freshman Mason Davis has been starting at second base since opening day. But over the last couple of weeks, Jordan has installed freshmen Johnathan Stokes at shortstop and Bailey Rush at third base, with rookie Bo Thompson starting the last five games at first base.

“Our defense has been better recently,” said Orvin. “Ever since we put Stokes at shortstop, our infield has just blossomed. It’s exciting for the guys on the team who have more time left. I wish I had a couple of years left, because those guys are going to be good.”

Thompson, a 5-10, 235-pounder from Mauldin, has developed enough with the glove to earn some more playing time. He had two hits and drove in a run in Friday’s 7-0 win over Furman, and delivered a two-run double in the seventh inning Sunday as the Bulldogs scored four times for a short-lived 5-4 lead.

Thompson drove in three runs Sunday and is batting .259 with three homers and 25 runs batted-in, tied for third on the team.

Furman (23-28, 10-17), battling for the eighth and final spot in the tournament, scored three times in the first inning Sunday and led 4-0 in the sixth. But the Bulldogs scored once in the sixth and four times in the seventh for a 5-4 lead, with Orvin and Justin Macket (3 of 6) adding RBI singles to Thompson’s two-run double.

The Citadel could not hold on to the lead, however, as Furman scored twice in the ninth on an infield single, a double, a sacrifice fly and an RBI double from Jarrod Rickman for a 6-5 Paladins lead.

The Bulldogs tied it in the bottom of the inning as Orvin walked, moved up on a bad pickoff throw and a wild pitch and scored on Mackert’s double-play grounder. Furman scored twice with two out in the 12th, on RBI singles by Taylor Johnson and Alex Abrams off freshman Brett Tompkins (0-4).