Bulldog Rally Falls Short as Elon Claims Southern Conference Tournament Championship
Greenville, S.C. – In a season and tournament in which Joe Jackson proved to be almost super human, he showed for a brief moment that he was indeed mortal.
Jackson took a Spencer Medick curveball for a called third strike to end the top of the eighth and The Citadel's last real threat of the day, and the Elon left hander went on to strike out the side in the ninth to preserve a 6-5 Phoenix victory in the Southern Conference championship game Sunday at Fluor Field in Greenville.
The Bulldogs won their first three tournament games by a total of only four runs but fell short in another thriller in the single elimination championship game format. The Citadel finished with a record of 35-25 and lost in the title contest for only the fourth time in 11 appearances under head coach Fred Jordan.
Elon (32-28), which is leaving for the Colonial Athletic Association after next school year, won its second SoCon tournament and will represent the league in the NCAA tournament. The Phoenix will learn its destination when the field of 64 is announced on Monday.
The Bulldogs appeared poised to complete a comeback from an early 6-1 deficit when they scored twice in the fifth and two more in the seventh to pull within one run. With two out in the eighth, Mason Davis drew a walk and Hughston Armstrong singled sharply through the right side to bring up the red-hot Jackson.
Before his eighth inning turn at the plate, the junior catcher had 10 hits in 12 official times at bat and had reached base in 18 of 19 opportunities. But Medick, one of Elon's weekend starters pitching in relief of starter Tyler Webb on Sunday, snuck a 3-2 pitch past Jackson to leave the tying and lead runs on base.
Medick then made quick work of Bo Thompson, Tyler Griffin and Drew DeKerlegand to pick up his first save of the year. Webb, who saved Saturday night's elimination game against Georgia Southern, picked up the win after allowing nine hits and all five runs with five strikeouts in 6 1/3 innings.
Jackson was so good during the five-day tournament that he received the rare distinction of being named the Most Outstanding Player despite playing on the runner-up. He was joined on the all-tournament team by Griffin and Thompson.
Jackson finished what could be his final season at The Citadel with a batting average of .386, 19 doubles, 13 home runs and 67 RBI among other numbers that will rank among the best in a single season in school history. He increased his average a whopping 23 points in just four games during the tournament and no doubt raised his stock considerably for next month's MLB Draft.
Austin Pritcher (8-3), working on three day's rest for the first time this year, was only able to go 2 2/3 innings and 68 pitches. The senior right hander and 2013 SoCon Pitcher of the Year gave up eight hits and all six Elon runs (five earned), with a walk and three strikeouts in his final appearance in a Citadel uniform.
Logan Cribb turned in a terrific outing from The Citadel bullpen to keep the Bulldogs in the game. After throwing five innings in a second round victory over Western Carolina on Thursday, the junior left hander allowed only four hits and struck out four in 3 2/3 shutout innings as the Bulldogs mounted their rally.
With one out in the fifth, Armstrong drew a walk and Jackson singled. After Thompson popped out, Griffin dropped a double in front of a diving Casey Jones in left to drive in both runs and cut The Citadel deficit to 6-3. The Bulldogs had a chance for more runs in the inning, but DeKerlegand's long two-out drive to center was run down by Sebastian Gomez.
Calvin Orth led off the sixth with a double, his third hit of the day, but was stranded at second. The Bulldogs got right back at it offensively the following inning when Armstrong singled to center and Jackson hit a scorcher to right that turned into his second triple of the season, scoring Armstrong to make it 6-4.
After Webb struck out Thompson, Elon turned to Medick to stem The Citadel's momentum. It eventually happened, but not before Griffin took his first pitch to dead center for a double that brought home Jackson and make it a one-run game.
Medick retired the final two batters of the inning, and the combination of Cribb and Zach Sherrill set down the Phoenix in the bottom of the seventh to keep it a 6-5 game. Medick then proved too tough over the final two innings as Elon moved on to the postseason.
The Citadel got off to a quick start against Webb when Armstrong doubled down the left field line and Jackson followed with a two-base hit off the top of the Green Monster in the Fenway-replica Fluor Field. Thompson was hit by a pitch before Webb escaped further damage to limit it to a one-run inning.
Then the Phoenix bats took over. Ryan Kinsella, the co-player of the year in the SoCon, tripled in Alex Swim and Jones doubled in a run to give Elon a 2-1 lead after one. The Phoenix added a run with a bases loaded fielder's choice in the second when Swim's grounder to short was hit too slowly for The Citadel to turn a double play.
It looked like The Citadel would get out of the inning allowing only the single tally, but Bailey Rush could not come up with Kinsella's foul popup at third to keep the inning alive. Kinsella eventually drew a walk, and Gomez made The Citadel pay when his single to right brought in two more runs to give Elon a 5-1 cushion.
An infield hit and throwing error followed by a Chris Bresnahan single off the monster made it 6-1 in the third and end Pritcher's day. Cribb wriggled out of a two-on, one-out jam in the fourth before The Citadel began the comeback that fell just short.