My feature for Friday on Citadel catcher Joe Jackson (or Joe Johnson, as he’s known to his teammates) was bumped to next week, so I thought I’d type a few words here on Bulldogs baseball as they host Davidson this weekend.
Wednesday’s game at No. 1 North Carolina was going to be difficult under any circumstances, but The Citadel got the full Tar Heel in UNC’s 13-0 win. North Carolina is so good that the loss actually bumped the Bulldogs’ RPI up to No. 48 from 52 at boydsworld.com
With North Carolina’s game against N.C. State rained out last Sunday, and the Tar Heels off this weekend, coach Mike Fox decided to give his top pitchers some work. The Bulldogs faced Sunday starter Hobbs Johnson for five innings, then Friday starter Kent Emanuel for two innings. They also faced freshman sensation Trent Thornton (8-1, 0.84 ERA) and top reliever Chris McCue (5-0, 1.34 ERA).
It was not your normal mid-week pitching lineup. Little wonder the Bulldogs mustered just four hits and struck out 13 times.
“North Carolina has the best hitter in country in Colin Moran (who hit a grand slam vs. The Citadel), and the rest of their team is extremely talented and deep,” Citadel coach Fred Jordan said. “But pitching is what they hang their hat on. They ran out five of their top eight guys against us, and they were all 90-plus with tremendous location.
“In our guys’ defense, they just dominated the strike zone against us, especially when they got the lead. When a team gets the lead in that environment, it can be tough. But we fought, we had some chances and maybe it was a good experience for our guys. Maybe its what we needed, to get brought back down to earth before conference play resumes.”
Indeed, the final 10 games of the regular season will go along way toward determining the success or failure of this season. The only sure way to get into the NCAA Tournament is to win the SoCon Tournament in Greenville, but the Bulldogs want to be at least the No. 2 SoCon team in case the league gets an at-large bid.
The Bulldogs (27-19, 14-7) trail first-place Western Carolina (31-17, 18-6) by 2.5 games. The Citadel has nine league games left, three each against Davidson (8-16 SoCon), College of Charleston (12-8) and UNC Greensboro (6-15), Davidson and UNCG the bottom two teams in the SoCon. WCU has six games left, against Wofford (9-15) and App State (11-11).
Sweeps of Davidson and UNCG and taking 2 of 3 from C of C would give the Bulldogs an 8-1 finish and a 22-8 league mark. In that case, they would need WCU to go 4-2 in the final six to finish 22-8, resulting in a tie for the regular-season title.
“These last 10 games are huge,” Joe Jackson said. “Nine of them are SoCon games, and we need to finish strong in the league. You’ve got to start playing well now to have confidence going into the SoCon Tournament. If you don’t have confidence going in, it’s hard to go out and think you are going to win it.”
Davidson has lost 19 of its last 24, including 2 of 3 against Wofford last weekend. But the Wildcats also played No. 6 N.C. State close in a 3-2 loss on April 23. Davidson is batting a league-low .254 and has no one batting over .300. The team ERA is 5.69, second-worst in the league.