Take me out to the brawlgame.

Take me out to the crowd of Southern Conference people who made sure a series of unfortunate events didn't get uglier.

The Citadel defeated Elon, 6-3, in 10 innings on Thursday night in a key SoCon tournament game at Riley Park, thanks largely to a controversial run that triggered a brawl between peaceful banks of the Ashley River and a quiet marsh.

Complete with video seen 'round the world.

Third baseman Justin Mackert scored from second base on Grant Richards' single in the top of the ninth inning to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead. The melee began soon after Mackert's awkward knee-first collision with Elon catcher Mike Melillo, attempting to corral a loose baseball almost directly on the baseline a foot or so in front of the plate.

Melillo, obviously upset, got a foul greeting from a group of jawing and celebrating Citadel players, out from the dugout to congratulate Mackert. Later Thursday night, Citadel players Nick Sprowls and Ben Carr and Elon players Scott Riddle and Jared Kernodle were suspended for three games.

Citadel cadets stick up for each other.

Elon's nickname only recently was changed to the Phoenix. From the Fighting Christians.

Yes, it could have been worse.

"I feel fairly good about how we handled it," SoCon Commissioner John Iamarino said Friday.

Inside the SoCon reaction:

The play

Who knows exactly what Mackert was thinking with only a few heart-pounding seconds to react?

But it was not a force play.

Melillo was, intentionally or not, blocking the plate without control of the ball.

Mackert was not obligated by rule to slide, though seems in a frame-by-frame Post and Courier photo sequence to go to his knees just before the collision jarred Melillo nearly into next week.

Tony Ciuffo, the former longtime radio voice of the College of Charleston baseball program and father of a high school catcher, was watching from box seats. He saw it as a hard but clean play.

So did home plate umpire Darrell Arnold, and SoCon officials agreed

Mackert was not "malicious" -- the rulebook ticket to an ejection. But the brawl was way too much for one umpire to sort out.

Crisis Management 101

The official discussion started immediately after the game. Iamarino and SoCon Senior Associate Commissioner Geoff Cabe met in a Riley Park locker room with Arnold and other umpires, Citadel Athletic Director Larry Leckonby and Elon Athletic Director Dave Blank.

The group huddled around a laptop to watch almost 60 minutes of tape collected by SoCon Director of Multimedia Services Jamie Severns from two sources, The Citadel Sports Network and SoCon.TV.

"We were able to look at a lower angle and a higher angle," Cabe said. "There was a lot of grabbing and holding in the scrum, and some incidental contact. We didn't want to punish those kinds of things. We wanted to look for those people who, without a doubt, had thrown a punch or launched themselves into the situation."

A three-game suspension is the NCAA minimum for fighting.

Severns made brawl DVDs for each head coach, The Citadel's Fred Jordan and Elon's Mike Kennedy.

"That's important," Iamarino said. "They were able to take a look at what we saw and able to feel more comfortable about it. I thought both coaches were good in their press conferences and I can't say enough about the ADs, Larry Leckonby and Dave Blank. They were calm, they were reasonable and they both said the same thing: 'We want to find guys who need to be suspended.' "

The resolution took only two hours.

Cooler heads

Video analysis shows Charleston policemen as star peace-makers. Citadel assistant coach David Beckley, too.

"All the assistants did a good job," said Iamarino, a former member of the NCAA Baseball Rules Committee. "Both sides. They were pulling people way and trying to stop it. Unfortunately, it seemed like it kept bursting out again."

The Citadel unscathed

Fred Jordan suffered a shoulder injury, but he has not been scheduled to pitch for a few decades. Sprowls, a senior, has pitched 10 2/3 innings this seasons. Carr, a junior catcher, has not played.

Take those lumps and smile if you're a Citadel fan.

Elon lost Riddle, its starting third baseman (and quarterback) and Kernodle (11 starts and 18 games as a pitcher). Plus Melillo, who suffered a thumb injury.

Not good for a good team squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble.

SoCon vs. NCAA

Not to nitpick ...

But college baseball sure would be better served if an NCAA official decided on suspensions involving players who might play in next week's NCAA regional. Just to keep cynics from arguing that a conference hoping for its teams to win as many NCAA regional games as possible might lean toward leniency.

The real problem

It wasn't just Carr and Sprowls. A bunch of Citadel players were out of the dugout and in Melillo's face after he was plowed over, and as play continued.

You don't see Little Leaguers or major leaguers dash from the dugout to celebrate a score during the top of an inning that isn't over yet. Only in goofy, lovable college baseball.

It wasn't a home run.

It wasn't a game-winning hit.

Yet the happy Bulldogs absolutely incited the whole thing.

"It's the culture of college baseball," Cabe said. "It's something we're going to have to keep an eye on. I think it's something that will continue to be monitored at a national level.

"We just have to decide whether this is a problem leading to a lot of incidents or part of the spirit of college baseball. It can be a hard line to draw."

But if the line isn't drawn soon, the SoCon's crisis management team might get some nice consulting fees.

Reach Gene Sapakoff at gsapakoff@postandcourier.com or (843) 937-5593.