The Citadel Stands Tall--Hugo, Errors and All
The Citadel? The Citadel? What happened to The Fullerton?
Wichita State failed to qualify for the College World Series this season, but there was a shocker at Rosenblatt Stadium nonetheless. The Citadel 8, Cal State Fullerton 7. The Titan team that won the Big West and swept through Austin with aluminum bats blazing is headed home, oh-for-Omaha. Those Titans milked the underdog angle for all it was worth--We have no money, please pitch us down the middle--but in the end, they were undone by an opponent who looks at Fullerton’s bare-bones budget and sees nothing but a feast.
The Citadel recruits officers, not outfielders. It’s a school where you can major in Major and play baseball on a weekend pass. The Citadel has all of two players on full baseball scholarship. It survives on football players and walk-ons and baseball players who Clemson and South Carolina don’t want. “We get great people,” Coach Chal Port says, “not great ballplayers.”
So this is how Port makes do.
When his starting shortstop, Phillip Tobin, dislocates a shoulder during The Citadel’s World Series opener against Louisiana State, Port substitutes with Scott Elvington. This is The Citadel equivalent of breaking glass in case of emergency. Before Monday, Elvington had three at-bats this season and had never started a college game.
When Elvington’s nerves overwhelm him--he commits two errors and loses his glove chasing another grounder--Port dials another shortstop. Chris Coker, Port’s regular first baseman, answers and moves across the infield, which brings Billy Baker, Port’s regular right fielder, in to play first.
Eventually, Port also needs a relief pitcher. More patching, more juggling. Catcher Gettys Glaze takes off his gear, picks up a resin bag and walks to the mound. Glaze needs someone to throw to, so Port has to use his backup catcher, Larry Hutto.
Hutto has a stress fracture in his right leg.
Port knows he can’t stay with this alignment for long. Glaze lasts about as long as Hutto does--3 1/3 innings--before Port has to move again. In to pitch comes Hank Kraft. Back to catcher goes Glaze. And onto the trainer’s table goes Hutto.
The Citadel. The proud. The few. The overworked.
“What we did today is not unusual,” Port said. “We are limited in personnel. We move them around and hope for the best.”
More often, Port takes what he can get. Monday, his Bulldogs committed seven errors, yielded 15 hits, walked six Titans. . . . and still won in 12 innings.
Fullerton couldn’t believe it. “This is my worst defeat ever,” said a stunned Phil Nevin, the Titan third baseman.
Port merely shrugged.
“We have these kind of games all the time,” Port said. “During our 26-game winning streak this year, we beat George Mason and had seven errors and only four hits. . . .
“Things go haywire in a hurry for us. We just kind of play through the errors. They’re part of the game for us.”
It’s hard to blame the Bulldogs. Most of the time, most of them are playing out of position.
So blame the Titans.
Fullerton scored seven runs, but left 13 runners stranded. In one inning, the Titans managed two hits and had a deep fly ball dropped by The Citadel’s right fielder, but failed to score because Mate Borgogno ran into Nevin while running the bases and was called out for passing the lead runner. In another inning, the ninth, Fullerton had the winning run at second base, but Steve Sisco and Paul Bunch struck out. In the 10th, the Titans left the bases loaded. And in the 12th, Borgogno took three called strikes with the tying run on third.
“We had the situation we wanted, but it just didn’t break for us,” Fullerton Coach Larry Cochell complained. “In fact, we had two or three situations we wanted in the ballgame.”
Nothing broke for the Titans on this day, except, maybe, their concentration.
Unfortunately, this game was part of ESPN’s broadcast package, so it was televised live into cable-ready homes across the country. Millions of Little Leaguers will be scarred for life. Yes, you, too, can throw to imaginary cutoff men and drop balls on the warning track and let foul pops land untouched and still win in the College World Series.
The secret of The Citadel, according to Port, the Bulldogs’ 26-year head coach, is a willingness to lose. “We can lose to anybody,” Port says, proudly. “We’re not afraid to lose. That’s why we play loose.”
And, the Bulldogs realize, there are worse things to lose than a baseball game. Last year, the Bulldogs almost lost their city. Charleston had a horrible home stand against Hurricane Hugo in 1989, losing buildings and power lines and the stadium where The Citadel plays its home baseball games.
“The lights, the fence, the grandstands, the press box, the batting cage--all gone, all destroyed,” Port says. “The field had to be completely restored. And they were still working on it when we started playing this season. We had guys still working on the field during our first few home games.
“That’s the reason our attendance was so high. We counted the workers.”
Apparently, the ballpark wasn’t the only thing restored at The Citadel. The Bulldogs reached their first College World Series by beating Miami twice in the regionals--in Florida, no less--and now have their first College World Series victory, having weathered a different kind of storm.
“I thought that was a great game,” Port exclaimed. “I’m not saying it was great baseball, but, my God, that was exciting.”
And that, in a bombshell, is the College World Series. Strange things happen here. Strange teams win here. The Citadel stays. Fullerton goes.
More than one can play the woe-is-me game. Someone now even plays it better than the Titans.