Greenville, S.C. - After being stunned by a two-out, two-run homer by Hector Crespo that tied the game in the top of the ninth, The Citadel headed to the bottom of the inning looking for a hero.
They found one in Joe Jackson.
The native of nearby Mauldin produced the biggest hit of the season to date for The Citadel (33-24) when he launched an 0-1 pitch from Taylor Thurber over the wall in left center to give the Bulldogs a 6-5 win over Appalachian State in the opening round of the Southern Conference tournament at Fluor Field in Greenville.
The junior catcher continued his remarkable season and sent the Bulldogs into a winner's bracket game on Friday against the winner of the contest between SoCon regular season champion Western Carolina and Samford. The time of tomorrow's game will be determined later today.
The home run was Jackson's 13th of the season and increased his team-leading RBI total to 63. It was also the first time he got a good pitch to see after walking his previous three trips to the plate following a double in the first that gave him 17 in that category. He reached base all five trips to the plate and raised his batting average to .369.
Jackson has hit 12 of his 13 home runs and has 43 RBI against SoCon opposition. Earlier in the day, the first team all-conference performer was named as one of 46 semifinalists for the Gregg Olson Award as the "breakout player of the year" in Division I baseball.
For several innings it appeared that the Bulldogs would not need late heroics. SoCon Pitcher of the Year Austin Pritcher was lifted with a 4-3 lead and two outs in the fifth after throwing 117 pitches, but The Citadel bullpen which has struggled recently was unhittable over the next 3 2/3 innings.
Ross White relieved Pritcher with a runner at second and got Michael Pierson to ground back to the mound. White then struck out two batters in a 1-2-3 sixth, and Zach Sherrill and David Rivera also worked a perfect inning each. The trio combined to retire all 10 batters they faced.
The Citadel added to its margin in the seventh when Tyler Griffin drove a fly ball to the warning track in front of the Green Monster in the Fenway Park replica stadium. Pierson was able to make the catch but Mason Davis, who led off the inning with a double, tagged and scored easily to give the Bulldogs the 5-3 lead they took to the ninth.
Closer Skylar Hunter made it 11 in a row for The Citadel bullpen to lead off the ninth but walked Preston Troutman with one out. He recovered from a 2-0 count against pinch hitter John Kincaid to record his second strikeout of the inning, but could not finish off the Mountaineers when Crespo, the SoCon's all-league second baseman, hit his first pitch just over the monster to create the tie.
Noah Holmes continued the ninth with a double, and Will Callaway grounded one up the middle. Callaway beat Johnathan Stokes' throw to first for an infield hit, but pinch runner Brandon Burris tried to score all the way from second and was easily thrown out at the plate by first baseman Calvin Orth.
Thurber struck out Hughston Armstrong to start the bottom of the ninth before Jackson gave the hometown fans and several family members in attendance a moment they won't soon forget.
The Citadel had led since the third when Mountaineer starter Jamie Nunn walked Jackson and Bo Thompson with two out and Griffin was hit by a pitch. Drew DeKerlegand then lined a triple up the alley in left center that cleared the bases and gave the Bulldogs a 4-1 lead. Pierson hit a solo homer and Crespo added a sacrifice fly in the fourth to trim the Appalachian State deficit to one run.
Thompson had an RBI groundout to give The Citadel a run in the first, and Person knocked in Jaylin Davis with a second inning single to tie the game at 1.
Pritcher allowed six hits and three runs with five walks and five strikeouts during his time on the mound. He pitched out of a bases loaded, one-out jam in the third and stranded two more runners in the fourth aided by his second pickoff of the game to keep the Bulldogs in front.
The Citadel improved its record in opening round SoCon tournament games to 20-6 all-time and is 57-26 in 21 appearances under head coach Fred Jordan. The Bulldogs are seeking their ninth tournament title and first since 2010.