Citadel baseball coach Fred Jordan has always aimed his team toward "four days in May," hoping the Bulldogs would reach their peak just in time for the Southern Conference tournament.
The philosophy has worked well enough to earn The Citadel six SoCon tourney titles in Jordan's 16 seasons.
But when the SoCon changed the tournament format last year - expanding from an eight-team field to include all 10 teams - it also added a fifth day in May that every squad with serious hopes of winning the SoCo title is hoping to avoid.
The top six teams in the regular season advance straight to the double-elimination phase of the tourney, set for May 22-26 at Riley Park. The bottom four are paired off in a single-elimination round on the first day. The losers go home, and the winners face the difficult task of stretching their pitching staff an extra day.
That's why the Bulldogs, currently seventh in SoCon standings, are working toward a top-six finish as they head into their final two league series, at home against Georgia Southern starting today and at Furman next weekend.
"That's very important, to be in the top six," said Jordan, whose squad is coming off a 12-3 loss at South Carolina on Wednesday. "That's one less pitcher that you have available if you are not in the top six, and you only have one chance in the play-in game."
At 9-12 in the SoCon, the Bulldogs are just behind Georgia Southern (11-10), UNC Greensboro (11-10) and Appalachian State (12-12), and have a three-game lead over No. 8 Furman (9-15).
Taking two of three from the Eagles would be a good start, but after losing 13 of 17 games in one stretch, Georgia Southern is currently the hottest team in the SoCon. At 30-22 overall, GSU has won its last 10 games, sweeping series from Wofford and Davidson.
Aaron Eubanks (3-2, 3.23 ERA), Brian Wilkerson (4-7, 6.12 ERA) and Josh Lairsey (2-1, 6.75 ERA) were the starting pitchers for GSU last weekend. The Citadel has been starting Wes Wrenn (3-6, 5.87), Matt Crim (4-3, 5.76) and Matt Reifsnider (3-2, 4.58).
The Bulldogs have lost seven of nine, but snapped a six-game skid with wins at UNC Greensboro and East Carolina before falling to the Gamecocks on Wednesday.
"We feel like we're playing pretty good baseball," Jordan said. "We played very well at UNC Greensboro but only got a split on Sunday, and played well again at East Carolina. I think we can finish anywhere from fourth to seventh, and we have the opportunity to determine that, and that's all you can ask for."
Reach Jeff Hartsell at email@example.com.