Austin Pritcher turned in the best performance by a Citadel hurler this season, tossing a complete game five-hitter to lead the Bulldogs to a 6-0 win over Furman for their ninth consecutive victory and seventh straight in the Southern Conference.
Pritcher (5-2) did not issue a walk and struck out six for his second career shutout and the first complete game by a Bulldog in 2013. He retired the first 11 batters, set down the side in order five times and lowered his ERA this season from 2.74 to 2.40.
The senior right hander has allowed only two runs in his last 24 innings and has 19 wins in his career, the most by any active SoCon pitcher. Pritcher's previous shutout came in a 3-0 victory over UNC Greensboro on April 13, 2012, and he has not allowed a run to Furman in 16 innings over the past two seasons.
The winning streak is tied for the fifth longest in 22 seasons under head coach Fred Jordan, and on Saturday the Bulldogs will go for their first double-figure streak since ripping off 13 in a row near the end of the 2013 season. The Citadel is 13-4 against its biggest rival over the past six seasons.
Johnathan Stokes provided most of the offensive punch for the Bulldogs with three hits, a two-run homer and an RBI single. The sophomore shortstop raised his average 12 points to .292 and has driven in at least one run in 11 of the last 14 games with a total of 20 over that span. Stokes has three RBI in each of the last two games and is now second on the team with 36.
The first five innings was a duel between two of the top pitchers in the SoCon, with Furman left hander Nate Smith matching Pritcher zero for zero. Smith was aided by an outstanding diving catch in center by Will Muzika on a drive off the bat of Drew DeKerlegand in the second as well as double plays in two of the first three innings.
Pritcher allowed his first two base runners in the fourth on a two-out double by Muzika and an error by Stokes but got a ground out to escape the jam. The following inning Paul Nitto and Greg Harrison led off with singles but a pop out and strikeout again kept the Paladins off the scoreboard.
The Bulldogs finally broke the scoreless tie in the sixth. Bret Hines reached on an error and eventually scored on a two-out infield single up the third base line by Hughston Armstrong. Joe Jackson followed with a double just inside the bag at third to easily plate Armstrong and give The Citadel a 2-0 lead.
Armstrong extended his hitting streak to seven games and is batting .481 (13-for-27) over that stretch. The center fielder has also driven in 10 runs in a six-game streak with at least one RBI, more than half of his season total of 19.
Stokes made it 4-0 in the sixth with his two-run homer over the short fence in left center, and his single in the ninth followed base hits by DeKerlegand and Calvin Orth to make it a five-run game. The single by Orth matched Armstrong's seven-game hitting streak.
A fielder's choice grounder by Hines provided the final run of the contest.
Pritcher, meanwhile, cruised through the final three innings, allowing harmless two-out singles in the seventh and ninth around a 1-2-3 eighth. He fanned Muzika and Taylor Johnson before inducing a foul out to right by Nitto to finish off the shutout.
In 83 innings during the nine-game winning streak, the Bulldog pitching staff has surrendered 60 hits with just 16 for extra bases, 16 earned runs for an ERA of 1.73 and 71 strikeouts compared to only 18 walks.
The Citadel will go for the series win on Saturday with junior left hander Logan Cribb (3-2, 3.20) on the mound against Furman junior righty Alex Abrams (3-0, 1.71). Abrams played first base for the Paladins on Friday.
The game time for the middle game of the series has been moved up two hours from the original 4 p.m. to 2 p.m. due to the threat of inclement weather in the Greenville area later in the day. The finale is still set for 1 p.m. on Sunday.