This is going to be a ramble more than a coherent essay; I’m just throwing together a few thoughts prior to the SoCon baseball tournament…
Links of interest:
Quick note on the bracket: The Citadel plays the early game on Wednesday (10 am ET) versus Appalachian State. If the Bulldogs win, they will play at 5 pm on Thursday unless Furman also wins on Wednesday; if both the Bulldogs and Paladins are victorious, The Citadel would play the late game on Thursday (estimated 8:30 pm ET start).
If The Citadel loses to Appalachian State, it will again play the early game (10 am ET on Thursday).
Sunday’s title game is a winner-take-all affair; it is strictly single-elimination, regardless of whether or not the teams playing in it have one loss or no losses. I dislike this format. It should be double-elimination throughout the tournament. The league does it this way for television, but A) the process of determining an automatic bid should not be so subverted by TV; and B) the game isn’t going to be on broadcast TV, anyway.
If you can’t make it to Greenville’s Fluor Field, a free (!) video stream of each game is available from the SoCon. The league championship game will be televised by ESPN3.com. It wouldn’t hurt to register at the league website beforehand, just in case.
Basically, it’s a carbon copy of Fenway Park, complete with a monster-ish left field wall. The dimensions mirror Fenway.
Day Passes are available for each day of the Southern Conference Tournament, for the low price of just $10. The Day Pass allows you to attend every game for the day in which you purchase.
A Student Day Pass will be also available to students from each of the respective colleges and universities, for only $6. While regular Day Passes can be purchased online, over the phone at (864) 240-4528, or at the Fluor Field Box Office, the Student Day Pass must be purchased at the Box Office and proper school identification must be shown.
To say The Citadel is not riding a hot streak as it enters tournament play is an understatement. The Bulldogs are 5-5 in their last 10 games, but perhaps more pertinent is the fact that The Citadel has lost five of its last seven league games, with four of those losses coming to teams that did not even qualify for the conference tourney. Several of those losses have been brutal, none more so than the last two games of the UNCG series.
At this point the Bulldogs have major issues with the bullpen and some uncertainty about the starting rotation beyond Austin Pritcher. The defense has remained problematic, though the offense has continued to excel. Because of that offense, I expect the Bulldogs to be competitive in this tournament. There is a big difference between competing in the tourney and winning it, though, and pitching problems and defensive foibles suggest that it is unlikely The Citadel will be celebrating a championship on Sunday.
The Bulldogs do have a few things going for them, though.
– The main reason The Citadel is a 4 seed rather than a 1 or 2 seed is its less-than-stellar record against the three schools (Davidson, UNCG, and Wofford) that did not make the tournament. The Bulldogs were only 4-5 against those teams. On the bright side, however, The Citadel won’t have to face any of those squads in Greenville. The Bulldogs are 14-7 against the rest of the conference — 7-2 at home, 7-5 on the road. That’s very solid. Western Carolina, the 1 seed, was 15-6 against tourney teams; CofC was 12-8, and Elon was 10-10. The Citadel’s opponent on Wednesday, Appalachian State, was 7-11 against the other seven teams in the field.
– I think that three of the four teams that the Bulldogs wouldn’t want to face until the championship game are on the other side of the bracket. While Western Carolina has been the best team in the league this year and will presumably be the toughest out, The Citadel is fortunate that Elon, College of Charleston, and Furman will have to get past each other to make it to Sunday. (Things got tougher for CofC with the news that its top starting pitcher, Matt Pegler, is out for the tourney with a broken hand.)
The Paladins, in particular, are a team to watch, not as much for being the host school but because they have a much higher ceiling than a typical 6 seed. Furman has multiple quality victories out of conference this season (including two wins over Coastal Carolina and another versus South Carolina), and also won two out of three against all three schools in its bracket (Elon, College of Charleston, and Georgia Southern). Furman has been inconsistent in league play (and was 4-5 against the bottom three teams, just like The Citadel), but seems to be playing fairly well right now. The Paladins enter the tournament on a five-game winning streak.
– While The Citadel struggled down the stretch, so did several other teams in the league. Georgia Southern has lost seven straight, nine of its last ten, and nineteen of its last twenty-three games. The first three losses in that 23-game downward spiral came against the Bulldogs. Appalachian State is 7-11 in its last eighteen contests. Samford has lost seven of its last nine.
Fred Jordan is going to start Austin Pritcher against Appalachian State, a decision with which I completely agree. The first game in tournament play is critical, and even more so for The Citadel following its last-season slide. The Bulldogs have to get their mojo back sooner rather than later. I don’t like The Citadel’s chances of rebounding from a loss on Wednesday.
Starting the league’s Pitcher of the Year on Wednesday also gives Jordan the option of having Pritcher on the hill on Sunday, should the Bulldogs get that far. Pritcher is probably capable of giving The Citadel some decent innings on three days’ rest. If you started him on Thursday, I have my doubts he would be too effective on only two days’ rest.
The other thing that sometimes doesn’t get taken into account is that there is no guarantee which team will win the other game in The Citadel’s bracket. The idea of “holding” Pritcher to Thursday so as to have the Bulldogs’ best pitcher face Western Carolina is based on an assumption that the Catamounts will easily handle Samford on Wednesday. Maybe they will, but I wouldn’t bet the mortgage on it. WCU swept Samford in Cullowhee earlier in the season, but the score of the first matchup was 9-8.
I’m not overly confident that the Diamond Dogs can shake off the last two weeks and run the table in Greenville, but luckily I’m not one of the people who has to be confident. That requirement falls on the players (and coaches). It will be interesting to see if they are up to the challenge.