Before leaving for the Citadel for their game with Appalachian State, I figured I could catch a baseball game first. I went to a junior college game at USC Sumter, where I help out with social media for the school. When I got to the ballpark three miles from my house, I found the press box dismantled. It was an old and outdated press box, and was being replaced. This put the seating behind home plate in the middle of a construction zone however. In addition, there was no working PA as a result for the entire game. Using a remote device from the dugout, the team was able to maintain the scoreboard. This did not seem to be a very functional arrangement. Why do stadium modifications during college baseball season?
But the City of Sumter does not give top priority to either the JUCO USC Sumter Fire Ants or the NAIA Morris Hornets. That would go to the town's American Legion team, a high school summer program. The American Legion team has been the most successful in the region and has hosted major tournaments. The press box just needed to be ready in time for the summer and the Legion team. The affairs of the college teams are pushed aside in favor of high school age players. And while Our Game might struggle for relevance, it does not compare with the struggles of schools below the Black Line. The game this afternoon had fewer than 100 people for college-age players, some of whom have scholarship offers from big schools after they exhaust their JUCO eligibility. Meanwhile, the Legion team often gets more than 500 fans per game. For small colleges, high school sports provide competition for fan support in addition to major college and professional teams.
As the baseball game got under way, I began to wonder if I would have a clash of priorities. I wanted to stay for the whole game, and felt like I had to since I was posting updates on the school's Twitter page. I also knew the only way I could find the entire statistics for the game later would be if I stayed and kept score. Yet the game started off moving slow, and I had to get to Charleston nearly two hours away later for my 800 Games Project assignment. The baseball game started at 2 PM, but since it would be the first part of a doubleheader it would only last seven innings. I did not anticipate a three hour game, but it seemed to be a possibility midway through the game. The home team also got off to a bad start, trailing 4-1 after three innings. If I were to miss my first 800GP assignment, I would not want it to come with a loss.
But the game sped up and the home team's fortunes improved as well. USC Sumter scored ten runs combined in the fourth and fifth innings to speed up the end of the game, which would be an 11-4 win. The game ended just after 4:15 PM, which left me plenty of time to make it to Charleston. To avoid problems with parking on the Citadel's tight campus, I drove straight in after getting gas halfway down to Charleston. I ate at McAlister Field House, which had better concessions than I remembered aside from the high prices ($3.50 for a bottle of Coke!).
Like USC Sumter, the Citadel also shares a baseball stadium named Riley Park with a tenant that gets a higher priority locally in a minor league team (although the Citadel owns the rights to the stadium officially). But the biggest problem for the Bulldog basketball team is a lack of priority from its fanbase. The Citadel baseball team may trail the minor league team in popularity, but they are still ahead of the basketball team. And with baseball season now underway and the basketball team in last in the SoCon, fewer fans are going to care about hoops. I have written about this before in regards to the SoCon, where the football schools seem to neglect basketball. And this is also very true at Appalachian State, the Bulldogs' opponents tonight. Matt Cayeula also noticed this at Coastal Carolina Saturday in regards to students more interested in a big baseball game, and this is generally true at most schools in South Carolina these days.
Officially the attendance was just under 1200. But the high school playoff game I was at the night before had way more fans than McAlister Field House had tonight. There definitely were no more than 800 fans for tonight's game, and possibly as few as 400 as certain low points in the game. Most of the noise was made by the Citadel pep band, which had fun taunting Mountaineers big man Isaac Butts. The band chanted his last name when he shot free throws. This is a picture I took during the game, and this is looking towards the more crowded season ticket holder side of the arena.
Some military schools get into basketball. I have read about the atmosphere at VMI games, where cadets (or Keydets) are required to stay through the first half. All of the cadets are very active and vocal. I am pretty sure the Citadel does not make a similar requirement for its cadets, as less than 100 cadets were there and only the pep band seemed to really care about the game. Military schools often make athletics a central focus of the school's identity, and the Citadel is no exception. It is the smallest school in South Carolina, yet has competitive Division I athletics. Its alumni usually follow the Bulldogs more than any major school, which unfortunately cannot be said of alumni at other schools in the region. But the basketball team is not the top priority, as football and the more successful baseball team get more recognition from the Charleston community.
The Citadel only had two wins in conference play. But they were playing at home against Appalachian State, which also had a losing SoCon record. The Citadel trailed early, but pulled in front late in the first half. The Citadel would have to win ugly, and they did a great job of playing good ugly basketball. They hit their shots as needed and reduced Appalachian State's size advantage by inducing fouls. Midway through the second half ASU got back in the game momentarily when the Citadel's Mike Groselle was whistled for an intentional foul when he delivered a forearm shiver to the face of Mountaineer Omar Carter. Groselle looked surprised at the call, but without a friendly crowd behind him he could have gotten tossed on the road for it. It was just simply a moment of carelessness for the Citadel, but ASU's foul troubles mounted as the team got increasingly frustrated. The Bulldogs hit their free throws and coasted down the stretch to a 62-51 win, only their third in 17 SoCon games this season.
The few fans that did care were very pleased. And you have to feel good for these fans, as following a team can be tough when they do not have the top priority locally. This is a challenge many mid-majors have, but it is even more of a challenge below the Black Line. Hopefully all fans will recognize all of what their community has to offer, as there are plenty of good athletes and teams who do not get the recognition they deserve locally.
at THE CITADEL 62, APPALACHIAN STATE 51 02/22/2012
APPALACHIAN STATE 12-16 (7-10) -- N. Healy 6-12 4-5 19; A. Williamson 5-6 0-0 10; M. Neal 1-8 1-2 3; T. Hamilton 3-11 0-0 6; O. Carter 2-8 2-2 6; M. Woods 1-5 0-0 2; J. Trice 0-2 0-0 0; I. Butts 2-2 1-2 5; G. Vilarino 0-2 0-0 0; P. Hausley 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-56 8-11 51. THE CITADEL 6-22 (3-14) -- M. Groselle 6-8 6-8 18; B. Holston 3-6 7-9 13; D. Wright 0-3 4-4 4; M. Harris III 1-3 3-5 5; J. Robertson 1-2 1-2 3; C. Bray 5-9 0-0 10; L. Miller 3-6 0-0 9; A. Moore 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-38 21-28 62.
Three-point goals: APST 3-22 (O. Carter 0-3; J. Trice 0-2; N. Healy 3-6; G. Vilarino 0-1; M. Woods 0-2; T. Hamilton 0-3; M. Neal 0-5), CITA 3-8 (B. Holston 0-2; D. Wright 0-1; L. Miller 3-5); Rebounds: APST 23 (A. Williamson 14), CITA 31 (B. Holston 10); Assists: APST 8 (M. Woods 3), CITA 11 (M. Harris III 3); Total Fouls -- APST 25, CITA 10; Fouled Out: APST-M. Neal; CITA-None.