The eighth-seeded Citadel baseball team battled back from a deficit to tie the game three times Tuesday morning in the opening round of the 2018 Southern Conference Baseball Championship presented by Holston Gases at Fluor Field, but ninth-seeded Western Carolina managed to score the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth to take the game 6-5.
The loss eliminates the Bulldogs from the tournament while the Catamounts will now play the No. 1 seed, UNCG Spartans Wednesday afternoon.
Both teams banged out 11 hits, but it was the five extra-base knocks by the Catamounts (8-45) that proved to be the difference maker despite the Bulldogs (19-34) appearing to have an answer after almost every WCU lead.
"I'm proud of our guys because they fought so hard today," said head coach Tony Skole. "I tip my cap to Western Carolina, they just wouldn't go away. We were behind just about the entire game, and we tied it up, but we had so many opportunities right after we tied it up to get one more hit, just one more hit. We just couldn't put that crooked number up on the scoreboard and it's like I always say, it's not about how much you hit, it's about when you hit. Today, we were just that one timely hit away from separating and ultimately winning this game."
The Catamounts edged out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the second with The Citadel tying it up in the bottom of the third when Taylor Cothran hit a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Jeffery Brown.
In the very next inning, the Bulldogs secured the lead when Brown followed Cothran's example with sacrifice fly to center field that scored Adam Colon with the bases loaded. Prior to Brown's sac fly, Colon, Clay Martin and Jonathan Sabo recorded back-to-back-to-back singles to load the bases with just one out on the board.
Despite the apparent momentum shift heading in The Citadel's favor, Western Carolina was able to respond in a big way in the top of the fifth when Spencer Holcomb blasted a three-run home run over the "Green Monster" in left field. It was the second homer of the day for the Catamounts.
For the second time on the day, the Bulldogs battled back and loaded the base in the bottom of the fifth with just one out, and Cameron Jensen took advantage of his pinch-hitting situation as he hit a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Cothran. Bryce Leasure then sent another sacrifice fly to center field in the bottom of the sixth, scoring Brown from third to knot the game back up at 4-all.
Western Carolina edged back out to a one-run, 5-4 lead in the top of the seventh when shortstop Cameron Blaquiere hit his second home run of the game, this one over the wall in left-center field, but once again, The Citadel battled back.
In the bottom of the eighth, Cothran took advantage of another one-out, bases loaded situation to score Brown and tie the score at 5-all, but a pitcher's best friend, 4-6-3 double play ended the Bulldogs' threat and attempt to retake the lead.
In the top of the ninth, it was once again Western Carolina's Blaquiere who put the Catamounts ahead, this time for good, when he ripped a double off the wall just left of straight out to center field, scoring Will Prater to take the 6-5 lead. All three of Blaquiere's hits on the day went for extra bases.
Eight different Bulldogs logged at least one hit in the game with Sabo, William Kinney and Cothran all notching two hits. The multi-hit games were the 33rd of Cothran's career, 42nd of Kinney's and 38th of Sabo's.
Dylan Spence started the game on the mound for the Bulldogs and pitched five innings, striking out three batters with Alex Bialakis and Jordan Buster (L, 4-4) both coming on to pitch two innings. Bialakis fanned three batters and gave up just three hits and one earned run. Buster struck out two but was saddled with the loss.
Chase Walter gave the Catamounts 4.1 innings that saw him strike out six before giving way to Tristan Baker (W, 3-6) and Zach Franklin (S, 3). Baker worked 3.2 innings to earn the win while Franklin finished the game, pitching just one frame to earn his third save.
Coach Skole Quotes
On the fight the guys showed all game long
"I felt good in the dugout, I felt like at any time we were going to separate and get things done. Again, Western Carolina played marvelous today, they didn't have any errors and made all the plays. But we did scrap and I hate it for our seniors because they fought and I know it's a terrible day for their baseball careers to come to an end. There are no right words that will comfort them right now. I love them to death, but (those of us that will be returning next year) have to learn from this and move on. We have a big summer ahead of us on the recruiting trail and we're going to keep marching forward."
What the seniors have meant to the program during the transition
"(The eight seniors) have been phenomenal, they really have. Eight special kids that have bought into everything that we have tried to do and they're forever going to have a special place in my heart. I look forward to our relationship with them continuing as they get into adulthood and into the real word."