Another Day of Spectacular Defensive Play has The Citadel on Brink of SoCon Championship
Greenville, S.C. – The much-maligned Citadel defense has the Bulldogs one win away from the Southern Conference tournament championship.
Hughston Armstrong made a spectacular diving catch on a line drive off the bat of Dillon Dobson in the right-center field gap with one out in the ninth, and Michael Pierson was doubled up at first to close out a thrilling 8-6 win over Appalachian State and put The Citadel on the brink of its ninth SoCon tournament title.
The Bulldogs (35-24) will meet either Georgia Southern or Elon in the championship game on Sunday at 2 p.m., which will be shown live on ESPN3. The Phoenix needs to defeat the Eagles twice this afternoon to set up a date with The Citadel while Georgia Southern only needs one victory.
Should The Citadel win tomorrow, it will mark the eighth time the Bulldogs have gone through a SoCon tournament undefeated, with the last time coming in 2010. It will also be the first tournament title for the Bulldogs other than at College Park and Riley Park in Charleston and it will give Fred Jordan his 60th win in the event against only 26 losses.
Appalachian State finished its season with a record of 30-24 including an 0-5 mark against The Citadel.
Pierson greeted Citadel closer Skylar Hunter with a base hit to open the ninth before Jaylin Davis struck out. Dobson then smoked a line drive that Armstrong, who was shading him into left center, was able to run down in the other alley and grab at the height of his leap.
The Bulldog center fielder had the presence of mind to fire the ball back to the infield, where Johnathan Stokes relayed it to Calvin Orth at first to complete another in a long line of highlight reel plays by the Bulldogs during the tournament. The catch allowed Hunter to garner his 13th save of the season, tied for second in school history and two shy of Link Saunders' record set in 2006.
Dobson was also victimized by Stokes two innings earlier when his line drive ticketed for center was snagged by the leaping Bulldog shortstop behind the second base bag, a defensive play that prevented Appalachian State from putting runners at first and third with only one out.
The Citadel entered the tournament ranked last in the SoCon with a team fielding percentage of .953, but the Bulldogs have committed only two errors in the tournament, including none in the last two games. Stokes and Mason Davis turned in a brilliant double play with The Citadel clinging to a one-run lead against Western Carolina on Thursday, one of five twin killings the Bulldogs have turned this week.
The two defensive gems were part of a bullpen effort that blanked the Mountaineers over the final three innings after a three-run homer by Josh Zumbrook off Ross White pulled Appalachian State within 7-6 in the sixth. The Bulldogs tacked on an insurance run in the seventh when Bailey Rush doubled for the second time in the game, took third on a sacrifice and scored on a great slide at the plate on a ground out to the mound by Davis.
One part of The Citadel game that was never in doubt was its ability to hit the baseball, and that continued on Saturday against a quartet of Mountaineer pitchers. The Bulldogs knocked out 14 more hits, giving them 43 in the tournament, with Davis getting the show started with a solo homer off starter Jeffrey Springs on the sixth pitch of the game.
A single by Calvin Orth and walk to Rush, both with the bases loaded, capped a three-run first. Four consecutive base hits to open the second, including an RBI single by Bo Thompson, put The Citadel in front 5-0.
But nothing has come easy for the Bulldogs this week, and Saturday was no exception. After two shutout innings, surprise starter Kevin Connell surrendered a two-out, two-run single to Will Callaway in the third.
The Mountaineers cut their deficit to 5-3 in the fifth, but it could have been much worse. Crespo reached Zach Sherrill for a double and Noah Holmes walked to start the inning before Sherrill got a ground ball by Callaway right at the perfectly positioned Davis at second. The tailor made 4-6-3 double play preceded a run-scoring single by Pierson, but Appalachian State was limited to one run in the inning.
For the second time in the game, the first four Bulldogs in an inning singled. Stokes and Davis had line drive base hits, and Armstrong laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt attempt that turned into another single when he beat the throw to first.
Joe Jackson, the offensive star of the tournament so far for The Citadel, grounded a single into left field to plate Stokes and reach 200 hits in his career. The Bulldog catcher has reached base in 14 of 15 plate appearances through three games, including seven hits, five walks, a hit by pitch and an error. He has raised his average to .379 as well as his stock in next month's MLB Draft.
Connell, making his 22nd appearance of the season but first start since last year's SoCon tournament, allowed four hits and two runs while striking out a pair in 3 2/3 innings. After Sherrill and White saw mound time, James Reeves worked 1 2/3 innings of two-hit, shutout ball and was credited with the win to improve to 3-1 on the year.