CHARLESTON, S.C. - The Citadel left-hander J.P. Sears became just the fourth pitcher in SoCon history to strike out at least 20 batters in a game as the homestanding Bulldogs defeated the VMI Keydets, 3-0, in SoCon baseball action Friday night in Charleston, S.C. The game was the conference opener for both teams.
Sears was the story of the evening, as he threw 130 pitches and became the first SoCon pitcher to hit the illustrious 20-K plateau since 1999, when Rodney Hancock - also from The Citadel - did it against Furman.
He fell two strikeouts short of the conference record, accomplished in 1964, and became the first pitcher in conference history to have two 19-strikeout games. He surrendered two hits and walked two in moving to 4-1 on the year.
VMI's (9-12) Josh Winder was the hard-luck loser, as he dropped to 3-2 despite allowing just two earned runs over his own complete game. Winder struck out a career-high 14, but Jonathan Sabo victimized him for a pair of solo home runs in the contest. That gave Sabo the lone multi-hit game for either side.
The Citadel (8-14) jumped ahead in the first inning. With runners on second and third, Ben Peden struck out, but the next batter - William Kinney - hit a ground ball to first. Ryan Smoot fed Winder covering, but the pitcher was charged with an error on the play and a run scored.
Michael Diodato doubled with two outs in the third for VMI's first hit, but Sears wriggled out of the jam with a strikeout and Sabo hit Winder's first pitch of the bottom half for a solo shot, doubling the Bulldog lead to 2-0.
The Keydets threatened again in the sixth, when Sears walked two with one out, but he rebounded to strike out the next two hitters. VMI did not get a runner to second base over the final three innings, and Sabo added his second home run of the game in the eighth to account for the final margin.
The Keydets were playing the game without Matt Pita, Collin Fleischer and Will Malbon, as the trio missed its second consecutive game due to injuries. Those two contests have marked the first time VMI has been shut out in back to back games in its past 145 contests - since April 4-6, 2014.
VMI baseball returns to action Saturday, when the series between the clubs resumes at 2 p.m.