Center fielder Hughston Armstrong made a highlight-reel diving catch to start a game-ending double play as fourth-seeded The Citadel topped No. 5 seed Appalachian State 8-6 on Saturday in the Southern Conference Baseball Championship at Fluor Field. With the win, the Bulldogs advance to Sunday's title game.
The Bulldogs (35-24) await either Elon or Georgia Southern in Sunday's championship game, which will appear on ESPN3, as well as Time Warner Cable in select New York and North Carolina markets. The game is at 2 p.m.
With The Citadel holding a two-run lead and Appalachian State's 4, 5 and 6 hitters coming up, the Bulldogs summoned freshman closer Skylar Hunter. Mountaineer cleanup hitter Michael Pierson greeted Hunter with sharp single to left center before Hunter struck out SoCon Freshman of the Year Jaylin Davis for the first out. Dillon Dobson then worked nine-pitch at-bat, fouling off three straight balls with the count full before sending a drive into the gap in right center.
Armstrong, who had been shading toward left field, covered the ground quickly, laying out for the full-extension grab before popping up and firing in to the infield to double Pierson off first and send the Bulldogs into the championship game.
Joe Jackson continued his torrid hitting pace at the tournament, as the Bulldogs' junior catcher went 3-for-4 with a walk Saturday to actually drop his average to .778 in his three games so far. Jackson is 7-for-9 with a double, a home run and five walks at the SoCon tournament.
Mason Davis was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and three runs scored for The Citadel, which also got two-hit games from Armstrong and Bailey Rush.
Pierson paced the Mountaineers at the plate, going 3-for-5 with an RBI. Hector Crespo and Noah Holmes had two hits each.
The Citadel seemed poised to run away with the game early, bolting out to a 5-0 lead after two innings before Appalachian State responded.
Appalachian State starter Jeffrey Springs (3-4) didn't make it out of the first inning, departing with three runs in and the bases loaded after needing 42 pitches to get two outs.
Davis led off the game with a home run over the Green Monster in left before Springs struck out Armstrong. Jackson singled to left, but Springs got another strikeout for the second out in the inning. The Citadel was far from done, however, as a pair of walks loaded the bases. Calvin Orth then stroked an RBI single to left ahead of Rush, who drew a walk of his own to force in another run and knock Springs from the game.
Taylor Thurber came in and needed just one pitch to stop the bleeding, getting a fly out to right center to leave the bases loaded.
The Citadel added two more runs in the second, leading off with three straight singles before a run came in on an error. Bo Thompson added an RBI single in the frame to make it 5-0.
The Mountaineers' bats came to life in the third inning, with Hector Crespo drawing a two-out walk to get the rally started. Holmes followed with a single, and a double steal moved both runners into scoring position. Will Callaway then singled up the middle to drive in both runners.
Appalachian State drew within two runs in the fifth on Pierson's RBI single, but The Citadel countered with two runs in the top of the sixth on an RBI single by Jackson and Tyler Griffin's bases-loaded hit-by-pitch.
The Mountaineers responded again in the bottom half, getting a three-run homer from Josh Zumbrook to pull within a run at 7-6.
The Bulldogs added an insurance run in the seventh on an RBI groundout.
Citadel reliever James Reeves (3-1) was credited with the win after throwing 12/3 innings, allowing two hits and no runs. Hunter's save was his 13th of the season and second of the tournament.