The Citadel baseball team opened Southern Conference play this weekend by claiming a three-game home series over Western Carolina. The Bulldogs and Catamounts split Saturday's doubleheader with the Catamounts claiming the first game 8-5 and the Bulldogs finishing things off with a 9-3 win in the series finale to clinch the series 2-1.
"I thought Alex Bialakis gave us a really good start (in the first game), it was frustrating in game-one because we had so many opportunities offensively that we just didn't take advantage of, and I give Western Carolina a lot of credit because they made it difficult on us," said head coach Tony Skole. "We had chances in that ballgame, but I was proud of our guys to come back. We were sort of backed into a corner and in a must-win situation to win the series. I'm proud of our guys because it was a long day. Jordan Merritt gave us another good start and that bullpen of (Hunter) Barbee, (Jordan) Buster and (Jonathan) Sabo was phenomenal as they put up those goose eggs the last four innings.
"Offensively, we're still a work in progress, but today, even in game-one I thought we had opportunities that we just didn't cash in on," Skole continued. "In game-two we had some big timely hits, five two-out RBIs which was huge. Our guys are getting a little more comfortable at the plate. We still have a little more work to do, but I was proud of how we were able to string some very good quality at-bats together today. Hopefully this will give us some good momentum heading into next weekend, but we still need to have a good week of practice to get ready."
On the day, the Bulldogs (11-12, 2-1 SoCon) recorded 22 hits and scored 14 runs, including 13 hits in the first game and nine in the second. The Catamounts (3-19, 1-2 SoCon) tallied 16 hits and 11 runs, including 11 hits the first game and five in the second.
Game 1: WCU 8, The Citadel 5
Western Carolina started the scoring early in the day's first game, plating two runs in the top of the first off a double by Justice Bigbie.
In the bottom of the frame, Bryce Leasure scored an unearned run off a single through the right side by Ryan McCarthy to cut the deficit to one.
The game then progressed scoreless for the next five innings as both pitchers settled in. Alex Bialakis dealt out five strikeouts and recorded a trio of three-up, three-down innings over that span compared to giving up one hit and one walk. For Western Carolina, Tristan Baker had three strikeouts, one three-up, three-down inning and no walks while giving up four hits over the five frames.
Western Carolina then broke up the scoreless stretch with four runs in the top of the seventh.
The Citadel answered with two runs in the bottom of the eighth, but the Catamounts stretched the lead back out in the top of the ninth with two runs of their own.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Bulldogs made an attempt to at least tie the game back up, scoring a pair of runs before moving two runners into scoring position. Despite having the tying run at the plate, Zach Franklin and the Catamount defense was able to shut down the threat to preserve the win.
Five Bulldogs recorded multiple hits in the game led by McCarthy's 3-for-5 outing with two runs batted in. The three hits, five at-bats and two RBIs were all career-highs for McCarthy, who also scored a run. Jeffery Brown, William Kinney, Andrew Judkins and Taylor Cothran all went 2-for-5 at the plate.
For Western Carolina, Spencer Holcomb went 3-for-5 while Bigbie went 2-for-4 with four RBIs and a run scored.
Bialakis (L, 2-2) started the game on the bump and pitched the first 6.1 innings, striking out five batters compared to giving up one walk. Baker (W, 1-2), pitched seven complete innings for the Catamounts to earn his first win of the season.
Game 2: The Citadel 9, WCU 3
The second game of the day started off in similar fashion to the first as WCU edged out to a quick lead, 1-0 in the first, but this time it took until the third inning for The Citadel to answer.
When the Bulldogs did return the favor, it was in the form of a three-spot off two hits, a pair of walks and two sacrifice bunts.
Brooks O'Brien led off the scoring drive in the third by drawing a walk before advancing to second off a sac bunt by Brown. After Kinney drew a walk to put two on, Jonathan Sabo loaded the bases with a single to right-center field. McCarthy took advantage of the one-out, bases loaded situation right away as he singled through the right side, scoring both O'Brien and Kinney. In the next at-bat, Cothran laid down a near perfect sacrifice bunt to score Sabo from third, setting the Bulldog advantage at 3-1.
In the bottom of the fourth, Kinney extended the lead as he ripped his team-leading third home run of the season, a three-run monster of a shot that cleared the scoreboard above the left field wall with plenty of room to spare and scored Brown and Ben Peden.
The Catamounts showed they would not simply ride off into the sunset as they scored two runs in the top of the fifth to pull back to within three of the Bulldogs.
The game progressed scoreless for the next two innings before The Citadel stretched the lead out to six, 9-3 with three runs scored in the bottom of the eighth. McCarthy scored from second off a single to shallow left field by Peden and then Peden followed suit off a similar hit by Leasure after advancing to second on a wild pitch. Leasure finished things off by scoring the final run as the Western Carolina second baseman mishandled a grounder from Brown.
After recording multi-hit outings in the first game. Brown and Kinney repeated with two hits in the second game, including three RBIs and a pair of runs scored for Kinney. Peden also went 2-for-4 at the plate with a pair of runs scored.
Both Holcomb and Luke Robinson finished the series finale with multi-hit outings for the Catamounts.
Jordan Merritt (W, 2-2) pitched the first five innings for the Bulldogs, earning his second win of the year as he struck out seven batters compared to giving up three walks, four hits and a pair of earned runs. Hunter Barbee pitched one scoreless inning with Jordan Buster, fresh off his win over South Carolina Tuesday night, coming on to pitch the sixth and seventh innings, striking out five while giving up no hits or runs. Sabo pitched the final scoreless inning to secure the win.
Taylor Purus (L, 1-5) was saddled with the loss for Western Carolina despite striking out nine batters as he gave up seven hits and six earned runs.
The Citadel will next travel to Lexington, Virginia, for a three-game SoCon series at VMI next weekend. The series begins on Friday, March 30 with a 6 p.m. game. Game-two of the series will feature a 2 p.m. first pitch on Saturday, March 31 and the series finale will begin at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 1. All three games will be featured on ESPN3.