A few thoughts on Bulldog baseball

Wow, this place is dusty.  I guess I need to post more often.

It’s been a tough year so far for The Citadel’s baseball team, to say the least.  One year after claiming the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles, the Bulldogs are 10-19 overall, 5-10 in the SoCon (entering a weekend series against the College of Charleston).  If the season ended today The Citadel would barely qualify for the league tournament.  The Citadel failing to make the SoCon tourney, held again this year at Riley Park, would obviously be a painful outcome for the program and could have repercussions going forward (in terms of future SoCon tourneys in Charleston).

Obviously when a team is 10-19 there are multiple issues at play, but let me put my own spin on things…

The Citadel is 2-9 in one-run games, and 1-5 in two-run games.  Yes, that’s a lot of one-run games (tied for most in the nation heading into the weekend).  The Bulldogs played 12 one-run games all last season (going 6-6 in those contests).

One thing to keep in mind is that there have been more one-run games this season in college baseball.  Across the board, 10% more games have been decided by one run this year (through the first 45 days of the season) than last.  That means that almost one-fourth of all Division I games are being decided by one run.  There are also more games going into extra innings.

The reason for all the close games?  The games are lower-scoring, thanks to the new bats.  The new bats also make it very hard to compare statistics from last season to this season, but I’ve taken a look at a couple of things with regards to The Citadel that I want to note.

Before I start, I want to say that some of the general information I’m posting comes courtesy of CollegeSplits.com, although most of the numbers are not posted on that site (which provides analytical and data services to about half of MLB).  However, occasionally one of the site administrators publishes an article on ESPN Insider and discusses some of the data they have compiled.

Defensive efficiency is a statistic that measures the rate batted balls become outs — in other words, plate appearances that lead to the ball being put into play, as opposed to walks, homers, strikeouts, etc.  It’s a good way to judge a team’s defensive ability, as it doesn’t have the biases inherent in fielding percentage.

Last season South Carolina and Texas were the two teams that had the highest defensive efficiency in the country, which should come as no surprise to anyone.  They each rated at 72.6%.  This year, more balls are being put into play (thanks to the decline in homers), so the national leader after 45 days has a higher rate (74.6%).  That would be Louisville, led by former Bulldog second baseman Dan McDonnell.

What this means is that defense is arguably even more important this year than in previous years.

I can’t calculate exact defensive efficiency data for The Citadel in 2010 and 2011, mainly because I don’t know the number of runners who have reached base via an error.  I could get that data if I went through each game log for the past two seasons, but I can only be a dork for so many hours at a time.  At any rate, I have the BABIP data, which tells more than enough of a tale.  BABIP means batting average on balls in play, for anyone wondering.  The numbers for The Citadel are instructive.

Last season in Division I, the average BABIP was .351 (so slightly more than 35% of batted balls that weren’t homers turned into hits).  This year, with the new bats, that number is down markedly, to .334, as more balls are being gobbled up by fielders and turned into outs.

In 2010, The Citadel had an impressive .332 team BABIP.  In 2011, though, it’s at .370 through 29 games.

Yikes.  In my opinion, that goes a long way to explaining the team’s struggles, particularly in close games.  Those are extra outs Bulldog pitchers are having to get, and they aren’t always getting them.

Last season Matt Talley had a .302 BABIP; through April 7 of this year, it’s at .370 (right at the team average).  Drew Mahaffey had a .267 BABIP last season, which wasn’t likely to hold up this year, but as of today he’s got a .431 BABIP.  Wow (and not in a good way).  In other words, 43% of balls hit into play against Mahaffey are turning into hits.  Either teams are hitting screaming line drives off him, or a lot of bloops are finding holes.  I think it’s the latter.

It isn’t just about defense.  The Bulldogs have not pitched as well this season as last, although interestingly they are striking out batters at a very high clip (almost a batter per inning).  The Citadel is also averaging about a walk allowed per two innings, significantly higher than last season.  Neither of those numbers are in line with the “new bats data”, as strikeouts are just slightly up nationally, and walks are down.

The Bulldogs’ bats have been very slow to get started, as some of the returning regulars have struggled with the new “lumber”, although there are signs that they are heating up.  Good thing, too, as The Citadel is 0-12 in games in which the opponent scores 6 or more runs.

I have been impressed with two of the freshmen.  Drew DeKerlegand has had a solid year at the plate, and looks like he will be manning the hot corner for the next few seasons.  Joe Jackson (the great-great-great nephew of The Shoeless One) can really hit, too.  I am not sure yet about his abilities as a receiver, although I haven’t seen anything to suggest he won’t eventually become a fine catcher.  With that bat, he’ll play somewhere regardless.  I’m hopeful that he will develop more power with time, too.

One of the problems Fred Jordan has had is figuring out a way to keep the five returning regulars from last season in the everyday lineup (including all three of last year’s outfielders, catcher Grant Richards, and 2010 primary DH Brad Felder) without leaving out Jackson (DeKerlegand being set at third base).  All the jumping around has probably had an effect on the defense, particularly at shorstop, but also including the outfield.

However, I can’t blame Jordan for shuffling things around trying to find the right combination.  If I had a suggestion, it would be to settle on the best defender at shortstop and stay with him.  Easy to say from a distance, to be sure.

Another thing I want to mention briefly is the baserunning.  While the Bulldogs’ stolen base totals are okay, I don’t think the baserunning has been good at all.   Too many guys have been picked off, and there have been multiple miscues on the basepaths.  In a lower-scoring environment, The Citadel cannot afford giving up outs (and killing potential rallies) with bad baserunning.

Personally, I think The Citadel is better than its record suggests, but as Bill Parcells would say, “You are what your record says you are.”  The Bulldogs still have time to salvage the season, but the team needs to avoid losing confidence as a whole.  I’m a little worried about that — two of the last three games have been blowout losses — but I believe the squad will perservere.

The recipe for success over the remainder of the season?  Hope, faith, and less charity on defense…

Talkin’ Bulldog baseball

I can’t believe I haven’t filed a post yet about The Citadel’s baseball team, but then, I haven’t been posting much at all as of late.  That will change (I hope) in the ensuing months.  At any rate, let’s talk Bulldog baseball.  The Citadel is in first place in the SoCon right now, so it’s the perfect time to jump on the bandwagon!

The Citadel heads into the upcoming weekend series with Samford at 16-2 in the league (28-15 overall).  I have to say I am pleasantly surprised at the Bulldogs’ success in the conference this season, as I thought it would be hard to replace the players The Citadel lost from last year’s team (including Richard Jones, Chris McGuiness, and Sonny Meade).

The Bulldogs needed to replace a ton of offensive productivity, and I didn’t think the pitching (which I expected would be good) would be able to overcome that.  I guess Kendall Rogers, college baseball writer for Rivals.com, deserves credit for picking The Citadel to win the Southern Conference.  I hope I didn’t just jinx the team by writing that.

What follows is a look at this season’s team and how it is faring in the categories of fielding, pitching, and batting.  Some of this is probably going to come across as overly negative for a team currently leading its league, but it’s important to examine the team’s weaknesses as well as its strengths.


Fielding is definitely the Achilles’ heel of this squad, and if the Bulldogs fail to win the league, or do not impress in any post-season play, it is likely to be the key reason why.  The numbers are not good:

  • 73 errors in 43 games (1. 7 errors per game)
  • A fielding percentage of .955 (which would be the worst for a Bulldog team in at least a decade)
  • An average of 38.09 chances per game (which would be the lowest for a Bulldog team since 2003)

The Citadel has committed two or more errors in 22 of its 43 games.  That’s 2+ errors in more than half the games.

The Bulldogs have had defensive issues at third base, second base, and catcher.  There have also been occasional lapses in the outfield, which is surprising, as all three regulars in the outfield are solid fielders with good speed.  All of them are capable of making outstanding plays.

I don’t think it’s particularly surprising that Bryan Altman, playing primarily as a catcher after spending most of his college career at second base, would not be the second coming of Johnny Bench with the glove.  From what I’ve seen, Altman actually does a lot of things well behind the plate.  The one thing he doesn’t do well, as least from anecdotal evidence, is cleanly catch pitches.

The ball seems to pop out of his glove a lot when I watch the games, which would explain his 14 passed balls.  The Citadel hasn’t had that many passed balls in a full season since 2003 (there were 8 all of last year).

At third base, David Greene has committed 18 errors.  Greene committed 14 errors all of last season.  His fielding percentage to date (.860) is substantially lower than it was last season (.903).  This may be a “he was in a slump at the plate, and it affected his fielding” kind of thing.  He’s not in a slump now, though, so maybe his fielding will improve as well.

Then there is second base, where Legare Jones has spent the most time, with Altman and Josh Pless also taking turns at the keystone position.  Jones has 10 errors and a .921 fielding percentage.  Pless, in limited duty, has an .882 fielding percentage.

Last year, the Bulldogs had 39.0 chances per game, almost a full chance more than this season.  That team committed just 1.14 errors per game, more than half an error fewer per game than this year.  This means, essentially, that Bulldog pitchers are having to get 2 and a half more outs per game this season (when you combine the increased errors with the reduced chances).

It’s hard enough to pitch in college baseball as it is, without having to get an extra out every third inning or so.


This was supposed to be the Bulldogs’ strength this season, and it has been.  Asher Wojciechowski was supposed to be one of the nation’s outstanding pitchers this season, and he has been.  A critical reason for The Citadel’s success in conference play has been getting consistently excellent performances from Wojciechowski in the Friday night games.

Not only have the Bulldogs claimed victory in those games (save last week’s game against Davidson), Wojciechowski’s ability to pitch deep into games has allowed the bullpen to do most of its work in a two-game stretch, instead of three.  Also, winning the series opener takes the pressure off the team for the remainder of the series.

This is why Matt Talley’s performance last Saturday (a complete-game shutout) may have been the most important individual start of the season.  For the first time all year, the Bulldogs trailed in a league series after losing the Friday night game.  Talley came up big under pressure, saved the bullpen, and set things up for The Citadel to claim the series by winning the second game of the doubleheader.

Wojciechowski’s numbers are uniformly great (.211 BAA, 98/19 K-BB in 73 IP, only 4 HR, 2.47 ERA).  His BABIP (batting average on balls in play) is actually a little high (.328), suggesting he has been a tad unlucky in that area (and that also may be a reflection of the defense behind him).  Wojciechowski threw 138 pitches against Elon earlier this year, but has had only one 120+ pitching performance since then.

I suspect Wojciechowski is making himself a lot of money this season.  He certainly should be.

I’m hoping Talley’s performance last Saturday is a harbinger of things to come.  Last season Talley was 8-1 with a 3.42 ERA, but this season’s move into the weekend rotation (and against generally superior competition) has resulted in an ERA jump of over a full run (4.50) despite a better BAA (.251 this season; it was .273 in 2009).

Talley’s strikeout rate and walk rate are both better this season than last, and his BABIP is actually a touch better this year too, so he hasn’t been unlucky in that respect.   Last season, though, he only allowed 14 extra base hits in 71 innings.  This year in 60 innings he’s already allowed 19.

Also, teams have  finally figured out that Talley has a great pickoff move (only 2 pickoffs so far in 2010 after having 10 in ’09).  Eliminating the runners who were subsequently picked off would give him baserunners per inning totals almost exactly the same for ’09 and ’10.

Talley has also been hurt by the team’s defense.  He has allowed a team-high 12 unearned runs.  Talley has actually allowed two more runs than Michael Clevinger in the same amount of innings, despite having an ERA a full run and a third better than that of Clevinger.

Clevinger has done a respectable job as the Sunday starter for The Citadel, about as much as you could ask for a freshman put in that position.  He has kept the team in the game most of the time, which is the primary expectation of a #3 starter.  Clevinger has done an amazing job at preventing unearned runs (just one UER in 59 2/3 IP), a stat that jumps out at you when you read the pitching lines for The Citadel.  Curt Schilling would be proud.

The Citadel has not had a lot of luck with starting pitching beyond the three weekend starters, which partly explains the lack of success in midweek games.  T.J. Clarkson had an ERA of 3.92 last season; this year it’s 6.35, despite having very similar K/BB rates, hits allowed totals, and BAA.  Clarkson, however, has allowed 6 home runs in only 34 innings after allowing just one (in 41 1/3 IP) all last season.

Austin Pritcher is a freshman who has started six games.  He’s had a couple of bad outings which have really hurt his pitching line (6.89 ERA), but he has had his moments in relief, and could be a factor in tournament play (as could Clarkson, who has proven he’s capable of pitching well against quality opposition in the past).

The Bulldogs have had four pitchers get most of the bullpen duty this season.  Matt Reifsnider is the long man out of the ‘pen, and he’s had a fine year.  His numbers are up (in a good way) from last year in practically every category.  What he’s done best is avoid walking people.  Last season he walked 15 batters in 36 1/3 innings; this season, just 4 in 38 IP.  That, combined with a much-improved BAA (.284; in ’09 it was .398) has dramatically improved his WHIP.

The two setup men for the Bulldogs are Raymond Copenhaver and Chris Boyce.  None of Boyce’s numbers stand out as being exceptionally good, but he’s done a solid job just competing on the mound, and has managed to get some big outs along the way.  As a result he’s 5-0.  Only Asher Wojciechowski has more wins for The Citadel.

I believe Copenhaver is the pitcher most affected by the team’s defensive play.  This is perhaps reflected in his BABIP of .361 (his BAA is .286).  Last season Copenhaver’s BABIP was .327 (with a .284 BAA).  What he does best is not allow extra base hits (just 3 in 20 2/3 IP, with only one a homer).  Copenhaver struggled at times last season, but he’s been better this year, with an ERA more than a full run lower.  I have to wonder if he’s actually been a little better than his results, based on that BABIP figure.

Drew Mahaffey had a great year in ’09 as the Bulldogs’ closer.  This year he has really struggled, though, and what was a team strength now has to be considered a weakness, at least until he can put things together.  The numbers do not lie.  His BAA has gone up from .203 to .238, but more ominous are his K/BB totals.  After striking out 71 and walking just 14 in 50 innings last year, this year he has already walked 18 in just 21 1/3 IP (against 22 Ks).

If the Bulldogs have designs on a long post-season run, I think getting Mahaffey back to near where he was last season is mandatory.  I don’t know whether or not that’s possible.  I just hope it’s not an injury situation.


This is the area where I thought the Bulldogs would struggle the most, but they’ve held their own.  It’s not a deep team, with eight regulars who go to the post practically every day.  DH Brad Felder has started 41 of the 43 games, yet he’s eighth on the team in starts.

There are two players in Fred Jordan’s lineup who weren’t really there last season who have made a big difference.  One of them is Matt Simonelli, who had limited playing time last year because of injury.  He’s back full-time this year and making it count (.952 OPS).

The other player who wasn’t around last year was Kyle Jordan.  Well, at least this version of Kyle Jordan, the one with a respectable bat who can make the routine plays in the field.  Last year’s version, the one with the sub-.500 OPS who led the team in strikeouts?  Gone, and thankfully so.  The younger Jordan does need to walk more and strike out less (8 BB/39 K).

Leadoff hitter Nick Orvin leads the team in OBP and slugging, as he has improved on what was an outstanding freshman season.  He is the runaway leader on the team in walks, with 30.  Orvin should be on the all-conference team.

David Greene appears to have rebounded from an early-season slump and is starting to move his numbers closer to what they were during his excellent freshman campaign.  Greene is also walking more this year, a positive development that I’m hoping may also lead to an increase in power.

Bryan Altman’s power is not in question, as he is tied for the team lead in homers with Felder (nine each).  Like Simonelli, I wish Altman walked a bit more, but also like Simonelli, he’s a contact hitter who doesn’t strike out much.  Altman can also swipe a base (8-10 this year).

William Ladd is also having a solid year at the plate.  He really needs to walk more, though (only four BB all season so far) to take full advantage of his speed on the bases.  Ladd is surely one of the faster left fielders in the country.  Ladd does lead the team in hit-by-pitches (11).

Brad Felder is not a high-average DH, but he has good power (and I wouldn’t be surprised to see his batting average continue to rise).  He also has 10 steals, joining Simonelli and Orvin as double-digit base-stealers.  His respectable .373 OBP has been built up in part by 10 hit-by-pitches.

Justin Mackert’s first season on the field has been a good one.   He now has two home runs and looks to have the potential to hit quite a few more.  He’s also not afraid to take a walk, although not quite at Orvin levels.  He’s another Bulldog who is a threat to steal (9-11 SB).

The ninth position in the lineup has been in a state of flux.  Legare Jones has seen the most time, starting 26 games at second base.  He is only batting .235, however, and as mentioned has had his share of errors in the field.  Jones has actually been better than that .235 figure suggests, though.  He walks enough to have an OBP of .351, and 7 of his 19 hits have gone for extra bases.  In other words, he gets on base at a decent clip and he has some pop in his bat.

Fred Jordan has lately been rotating Jones, Josh Pless, and Altman at second base (with Grant Richards catching when Altman goes to second).  I would imagine this will continue, with Jones and Pless being in a platoon situation and Altman occasionally moving to second base as relief from the stress of catching every day.

Entering weekend play, The Citadel has an RPI of 31, per Boyd Nation.  According to Nation, if The Citadel goes 10-4 in its last fourteen regular season games (12 of those 14 are SoCon games), it will remain in the top 32 of the RPI.  A 7-7 mark would keep it in the top 45.

The Bulldogs’ last four SoCon opponents include the teams currently in second (College of Charleston), third (Samford), and fourth (Georgia Southern) place in the league — and all of those series will be on the road, beginning with this weekend’s trip to Birmingham to play Samford.  The Citadel has a lot of work to do to win the league.

I think a 7-5 finish in league play would be good enough to win the regular season title (8-4 would be a mathematical certainty).  6-6 might be enough, depending on other results.

If The Citadel wins the SoCon regular season crown, I think that would guarantee the Bulldogs a place in the NCAAs, as it would be hard to leave out the regular season champ of a top-10 league.  Possible, but not likely.  The Citadel’s non-conference record isn’t so hot (12-13), but its record against top-50 opponents (6-6, or 6-5, depending on source) is solid.

Of course, if the Bulldogs win the conference tourney at Riley Park next month, they won’t need an at-large berth (for the record, The Citadel has never received an at-large bid to the regionals).

I just hope The Citadel finishes strong and leaves no doubt about its NCAA-worthiness.  I’m ready to go to an NCAA regional again.  It’s been too long since the last one for my liking.

The SoCon baseball tourney moves to Greenville

It’s SoCon baseball tourney time, live from Riley Park in beautiful downtown Charl…

Oh.  They moved the tournament this year.

That’s right.  After 19 consecutive years in Charleston, the powers that be in the Southern Conference wilted from the non-stop complaints of a select few and moved the tournament (for at least one year) to Greenville, where it will be held at Fluor Field.  (The tourney returns to Riley Park next year.)

The tournament regularly made money (!) when it was held in Charleston.  Don’t expect it to do so in Greenville, where it will lack the kind of community support that has made it successful in the Holy City.  Of course, the conference doesn’t realy need the money.  Wait, what’s that you say?  The economic climate in the country has hit the SoCon hard?  The league is cutting costs, including not holding media days for football and basketball?  It’s going to reduce the number of teams that qualify for conference tournaments in sports like women’s soccer, men’s soccer, women’s tennis, men’s tennis, volleyball, and softball?  It’s going to force conference baseball series next year to be held over two days rather than three, with Saturday doubleheaders, to save on travel expenses?  It’s going to do all those things and then cut off its nose to spite its face by moving its baseball tourney just to please a small group of whiners?

Yes, it is.  (The league is also not printing media guides next year, although that strikes me as a good permanent move, what with being able to publish the guides online.  It would be nice if the conference updated its historical records information in hoops and baseball, which hasn’t been done in several years.)

The complaints came over a perceived home field advantage for The Citadel (and for the College of Charleston to a lesser extent).  The loudest of the voices was that of UNC Greensboro coach Mike Gaski, who campaigned to move the tournament for about a decade, or not too long after his 1998 squad had been defeated by The Citadel in the tournament championship game.  That was UNCG’s first year in the league after having lots of success in the Big South.  Gaski’s crew had won the regular season in the SoCon by a half-game over The Citadel, and by one game over Western Carolina, in a very tight three-way race.  Then the tournament rolled around.  The Spartans had actually swept the Bulldogs in Charleston earlier that season, but when the games really mattered, The Citadel prevailed twice over UNCG by a combined score of 21-1.

There really should not have been much to complain about — 21-1 strikes me as being rather decisive — but that was just the start of the drumbeat for moving the tourney.  The thing is, though, UNCG hasn’t won the league regular season title since then.  The Spartans did make it to the tourney title game in 2001, as the 5 seed, when they lost to (of course) The Citadel, which probably rankled Gaski even more.

As everyone knows, home field advantage in baseball isn’t nearly as important as it is in football or basketball.  There is no comparison between The Citadel playing tournament games at Riley Park and UT-Chattanooga getting to host the SoCon men’s hoops tourney on its home court.  That is borne out by the numbers.  While UTC has won the basketball tournament both times it has hosted it, I think some people would be surprised if they took a look at the baseball tournament history since the SoCon set up shop in Charleston.  There have been 19 tournaments held in Chucktown, and here is the breakdown over that time span:

The Citadel — 5 regular season titles, 7 tournament titles
College of Charleston — 3 regular season titles, 1 tournament title
Western Carolina — 3 regular season titles, 4 tournament titles
Georgia Southern — 5 regular season titles, 3 tournament titles
Elon — 2 regular season titles, 1 tournament title
UNC Greensboro — 1 regular season title, 0 tournament titles
Furman — 0 regular season titles, 2 tournament titles
Wofford — 0 regular season titles, 1 tournament title

The Citadel is +2 overall in 19 years of hosting the event (in terms of tourney versus regular season titles).  Meanwhile, the other local school reputed to have at least something of an edge by the tournament being held in Charleston, the CofC, is -2.  So much for a huge local advantage.

After Gaski and UNCG, the school with the most fans critical of the tournament being held in Charleston is probably Western Carolina — but the Catamounts have had their fair share of success there, and are +1.  Really, it’s Georgia Southern that logically would have the biggest complaint (-2), but its fans don’t seem to have had nearly as much of an issue with the tournament being held in the port city (it’s not an inconvenient location for them, for one thing).

The school that appears to have had the biggest benefit to playing in Charleston, as far as tourney vs. regular season success goes, is Furman, with no league regular season titles but two tourney titles since 1990.  Thus, the conference in its infinite wisdom is moving the tournament so the Paladins can be the host team…

You know what this is really about?  It’s about programs not being as successful as they once were, and not getting in the NCAA tournament, and looking for an excuse.  Western Carolina dominated the league in the mid-to-late 1980s, winning five straight tournament titles from 1985-89, all of which were held either in Cullowhee, Boone, or Asheville.  In those five years, WCU also happened to win the league regular season (or division) title four times.  The Catamounts also won a division title in 1984, but didn’t win the tournament that season.

UNC Greensboro won the Big South in 1994 and 1997, winning that conference’s tournament title both years as well.  It entered the Southern Conference following the ’97 campaign.

Western Carolina fans remember the glory days of winning the league every year.  The Catamounts have generally still been competitive, and among the better teams in the league, but they don’t win the conference title every year, and that is reflected in WCU’s tournament results.  The same can be said for UNCG, which has usually been good, but hasn’t enjoyed as much success as it had in the Big South immediately prior to joining the SoCon.

Unfortunately for Gaski and the Spartans, the year the tournament finally moves to Greenville has coincided with that of one of his worst squads, and UNCG has not qualified for this year’s tournament.  I suspect the coach finds that particularly galling.

I hope that Greenville does a decent job hosting the event.  I think it’s safe to assume that there will be a tarp at Fluor Field.  As some of us remember, that wasn’t the case when the tournament was held in Asheville.  The league can’t afford to repeat the 1989 debacle, which just screamed “Mickey Mouse conference” (and which led directly to the tournament moving to Charleston).

I suppose any of the eight teams in the tournament could win it, but I would rank them like this:

Elon — clearly the best team in the league; NCAA lock
Georgia Southern, The Citadel, Western Carolina, College of Charleston — all think they can win the tourney
Appalachian State, Davidson — dangerous, but probably not dangerous enough to win the tournament
Furman — happy to be the host

The latest projections from Baseball America, SEBaseball.com, etc., suggest that as many as three teams from the SoCon can make the NCAAs.  I am a little dubious about that.  Elon is definitely in, but if the Phoenix win the league tournament I don’t know what other team, if any, will join them as a regional participant.  That will depend on how the other teams fare in Greenville.  My best guess is that Georgia Southern is best positioned to get a bid from among the other schools.  I think The Citadel and the College of Charleston have to win the tournament (that’s probably a given for the CofC at this point), and that Western Carolina may have to at least reach the championship game.

The seedings were thus very important for the contenders, and the short straw was drawn by WCU and the CofC.  Not only do those two squads have to play each other in the first round, but the winner likely has to face Elon in the next game.  Georgia Southern’s second-place league finish means that the Eagles avoid all three of those teams until at least Friday (the same is true for The Citadel).  That said, this tournament has a history of early-round upsets, and neither Appalachian State nor Davidson are easy outs.  Even Furman has to be given a puncher’s chance.

As for The Citadel, I would like the Bulldogs’ chances a lot more if the relief pitching were a little better.  Drew Mahaffey is a quality closer, but the setup corps has left a lot to be desired.  Fred Jordan only appears to have faith in one other reliever, Raymond Copenhaver, but Copenhaver has had his ups and downs this year.

Of course, one solution to the problem with the relief pitching is to have the starters all throw complete games, similar to what happened in 2004 (when The Citadel had a tournament-record five complete games, two by Jonathan Ellis).  If a particular starter is effective, then Jordan is likely to leave him in the game as long as he possibly can.

The Bulldogs appear to be playing better defensively, and the offense is close to its peak level entering the tournament, which is good.  If the bottom of the order can be at least somewhat productive, The Citadel should score a lot of runs, because batters 1-6 have been getting the job done.

I favor Elon to win the tournament, but I am hoping the Bulldogs can have a special week.  I would also find it a bit amusing if The Citadel wins the tournament in a year when it’s not held in Charleston.

Undefeated in Carolina Stadium

The Bulldog baseball team enjoyed its first visit to the brand-new Carolina Stadium, winning 5-3 in 11 occasionally dramatic innings, and cementing a season sweep of the Gamecocks.  Admittedly, it’s only two games, but this is the first time The Citadel has beaten South Carolina on the diamond twice in one season since 1961, although it should be pointed out that the two schools didn’t meet twice annually during most of the 1960s, and for a few years in the 1970s.

(The Citadel also won its first basketball game against the College of Charleston at Carolina First Arena, so these debuts at “Carolina ______”  stadia are going rather well.)

At the end of this post you can see some pictures of the new park I took during the game, from a bunch of different angles, somehow forgetting to take photos of the concourse and the concession areas until the batteries in my camera died.  I’m also not the most skilled of photographers, so they aren’t the best pictures in history.  It’s a nice stadium, definitely SEC-caliber.  Some observations about the park, and the game:

  • There was a sign noting that, in an effort to be eco-friendly, one half of the scoreboard was lit using a hydrogen fuel cell.  Why only half, I have no idea.
  • Speaking of the board, I noticed that the “Carolina Stadium” lettering was not lit.  I assume that either it wasn’t working, or more likely that the folks at USC are still looking to sell naming rights to the stadium, and didn’t want to pay for custom-designed lighting that will only be temporarily used.
  • There is a grass area down the first base line near the right field wall called the “Bi-Lo Berm”.  I have to wonder how long Bi-Lo will continue to sponsor the berm, given that the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last month.
  • The field itself looked fantastic, which was very impressive, particularly given the weather over the past few days.  I give the groundskeeper an A.
  • The parking situation is abysmal.  I’m just waiting for the first pedestrian fatality (it will probably happen after a game, after darkness).   If anything, it’s worse than it was at Sarge Frye Field, which is really saying something.  For someone like me, who would be inclined to go to USC games every now and then just to watch good baseball, it’s a reason not to go.
  • The stadium holds 9,000.  The announced crowd last night was 6,923, which is a nice crowd for a weekday game, although to be honest I didn’t think the park was at 75% capacity.  I thought it was more like 60%-65%.  The Citadel brought a fair amount of people, which wasn’t that big a surprise.
  • Having a true freshman throw 134 pitches in a game is normally asking a lot, but I can’t really fault Fred Jordan in this case, given the actual performance by T.J. Clarkson.  Clarkson didn’t exactly run out of gas, either, as he retired the last nine batters he faced.  I wondered if he had a little trouble getting loose in the early going, but he ended the game on a roll.
  • Drew Mahaffey pitched in both games this season against South Carolina.  In those two games, he faced 12 batters, retiring all 12, with 8 strikeouts (6 swinging), a foul out, a tapper back to the pitcher, and two routine fly outs.  In the first game, he entered the contest with runners on second and third and no outs.  Neither scored.
  • In two games this season against the Gamecocks, Bryan Altman had an OBP of .818, with seven hits (including a homer) , two walks, two runs batted in, and four runs scored.
  • This is a pretty good USC team, but it’s not as good as some more recent editions.  I think part of this is due to its lineup not having a true scares-you-every-time-he’s-at-bat kind of player.  Past Gamecock teams have usually had a couple of those guys.

I haven’t posted much about the baseball team.  One reason for that is I’ve been a little busy.  The other is that I was going to wait a little into the season so I could get a handle on this year’s club.  The thing is, though, that the Bulldogs have played 35 games and I still don’t have a real good handle on the team.  They have a .600 winning percentage in league play, and a .600 winning percentage out of conference  — and yet I really can’t say the Bulldogs are a consistent outfit.  Here are some of my thoughts on the team (some of which could be wildly off the mark, to be sure):

  • The lineup, from 1-6, is excellent.  Those six guys can all hit, and with some pop.  The two freshmen have both acquitted themselves very well.  I worry a little about two lefties at the 4-5 spots, where a late-game LOOGY could come into play, but that’s a minor quibble.  William Ladd is currently batting .351 (824 OPS), and looks to have locked down the seventh spot in the lineup (nice outfield assist in last night’s game, too).  That leaves the designated hitter (for games Richard Jones catches) and shortstop as question marks in the batting order.  The DH spot will likely be something of a revolving door, based on matchups, which is fine (although Sid Fallaw has received the majority of the opportunities so far).  Shortstop is another matter.
  • The Bulldogs have been erratic defensively, which makes it all the more important to have an everyday shortstop.  That would have been Kyle Jordan, of course, but you just can’t have a player with a 367 OPS as a regular.  His terrible season-long slump has been a major problem.  I’m not sold on Altman as a regular shortstop.  Johnny Dangerfield hasn’t been bad, but his bat isn’t quite big enough to make up for the defensive deficiencies in the middle infield when Altman moves over.
  • The pitching has been mediocre, even though The Citadel does lead the Southern Conference in ERA, thanks to A)  its home park, and B) the incredible lack of quality pitching in the league this year (SoCon ERA, as a conference:  6.35).  Mahaffey has been outstanding in the closer role.  The starting pitching hasn’t been that good, but it generally hasn’t been terrible, either.  The midweek starters haven’t been bad at all.  What the Bulldogs don’t have is an ace.  The middle relief/setup men have been poor.

The Citadel, right now, strikes me as a team you wouldn’t want to face in the Southern Conference tournament, but a team probably not consistent enough to win the entire tournament.  However, I can see that changing for the better.  If Raymond Copenhaver (and/or someone else) can shore things up in the 7th-8th innings, and get the game to Mahaffey, the Bulldogs have plenty of starting pitchers capable of a solid 6-inning effort.  In post-season play, having four (or five) of those kinds of pitchers will work to The Citadel’s advantage; that’s the type of depth you need to win a conference tourney.

First, though, The Citadel has to make sure it qualifies for the SoCon tournament, which means it has to finish as one of the top eight teams in the league.  The Bulldogs are well on their way to making it, but there are still 15 conference games left, starting Friday at UNC-Greensboro.  UNCG is currently 2-11 in the league, in last place, and will be desperate to win the series and climb out of the cellar.

It would be ironic if the Spartans ultimately do not qualify for the conference tournament, since UNCG coach Mike Gaski campaigned for many years to move the league tourney out of Charleston, claiming it was an unfair advantage to the two Charleston schools.  The conference brass finally buckled under his criticism (among that of others), and moved the tournament for this season to Greenville.  Now there is a decent chance the Spartans won’t even make the field.

Pictures from last night: