A two-out triple by Bret Hines in the 10th inning scored the winning run as The Citadel Bulldogs defeated the VMI Keydets, 3-2, in the opening game of the 2016 SoCon Tournament contested Tuesday morning at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C. With the win, #8 The Citadel (17-40) advances to the tournament’s main draw beginning Wednesday, while #9 VMI’s season ends with a 21-35 mark.
The Keydets had taken a 2-1 lead to the ninth, a margin they had held since the third, but The Citadel tied the game with a suicide squeeze bunt off the bat of pinch-hitter Jacob Watcher. Mike Deese then singled with two outs in the 10th against Taylor Edens, and Hines followed with a long drive to center field that Will Malbon narrowly missed making a spectacular, game-saving catch on. The play went for a triple and scored Deese easily to give The Citadel the win.
On the mound, VMI starter Josh Winder set a new program record for strikeouts in a postseason game with 10, as he went 8 1/3 innings and allowed two runs on eight hits. He issued just one free pass on the day, the walk that eventually scored as the tying run in the ninth. He threw a career-high 122 pitches, 80 for strikes. The decisions went to Kyle Smith (2-2) and Edens (3-6). Smith gave up just one hit and struck out five in three innings, while Edens gave up one run on two hits to take the loss.
Offensively, Jacob Jaye had the best day of all the Keydets, going 2 for 3 with two walks, while Deese had three singles and scored the winning run to pace the Bulldogs. It was a day of missed opportunities for both clubs as the Keydets went 1 for 19 with runners on base and 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position, while the Bulldogs could only muster 2 for 14 and 0 for 6 in those categories, respectively.
The Citadel struck first on the day that saw temperatures creep into the high-70’s and low-80’s with clear skies. Stephen Windham homered to left center field with two outs, giving the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead. That lead held up until the third, when Jaye singled with one out off Citadel starter JP Sears and Nathan Eaton homered over the mini-Green Monster, giving VMI a 2-1 lead.
The Bulldogs put two in scoring position in the bottom of the third, but Winder struck out Deese and got Hines on a fly ball. VMI then threatened in the sixth, when Sears appeared to lose his command with two outs. Peyton Maddox and Tyler Tharp drew back to back walks, but Malbon grounded out to end the inning.
Jaye was stranded at second in the seventh, when the Keydets were unable to get down a sacrifice bunt after his leadoff single. The Citadel took advantage of a fielding error to put runners at the corners with two outs in the bottom of the frame, but Ben Peden got under a fly ball to right to end the inning.
Once again, VMI threatened in the eighth. Collin Fleischer led off with a single and stole second, but Smith struck out Matt Dunlevy, Maddox and Tharp consecutively to end the threat.
The Keydets nursed a 2-1 lead to the ninth behind Winder’s spectacular effort, but Steven Hansen led off with a walk. Barrett Charpia struck out swinging, but the ball bounced away at the plate and Hansen was able to move up. Jack Gomersall relieved and, while walking William Kinney, threw another wild pitch to allow Hansen to take third. With runners at the corners, Edens relieved and Watcher greeted him with the game-tying suicide squeeze to knot the score at 2 and set the stage for the 10th-inning drama.
In the season-ending contest, six Keydets played in their 56th game of the year, breaking the program record of 55 that had been accomplished 18 times previously. Eaton wrapped up the year with 230 at-bats, the second-most in program history, while Edens made his 30th appearance of the year and became just the third Keydet to ever hit that mark in a single season.