FRANCIS MARION 4, NO. 6 USC AIKEN 2 (14 innings)
By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
Sometimes, when a baseball game is going deep into extra innings with two solid staff performances on the mound, only a strange or controversial play can bring it to an end.
The second game of Sunday’s doubleheader between No. 6 USC Aiken and Francis Marion got a play that was both and helped result in a 4-2 Francis Marion win.
In the top half of the 14th inning, with the game tied at 2, Patriot (5-5, 1-2 Peach Belt Conference) center fielder Jarrod Reed struck out, but Pacer (10-2, 2-1) catcher Josh Miller dropped the third strike. When Miller popped up to throw Reed out at first, he got tangled up with home plate umpire Tyler Simpson, causing his throw to sail into right field.
Reed advanced to second, but Simpson came out to declare that he had interfered with the throw and that Reed must return to first base.
USCA head coach Kenny Thomas came out to argue the call, since the interference happened well before Reed even arrived at first.
“It was a tough time for it to happen,” he said. “I’ve never seen that before. That’s the rule, I assume, because that’s what they called. I feel like that’s punishing the defense. I mean, we just struck the guy out and trying to throw it down to first, and they get their feet tangled, and the guy gets first because the umpire got his feet tangled with my catcher.”
From there, the Patriots got runners on second and third with help from a passed ball by Miller, who caught all 23 innings of the doubleheader, and Patriot catcher Jacob Golliday drove in the winning runs with a single.
The play helped end a game that saw both pitching staffs put in solid work. Pacer starter Wyatt Brown worked six innings and gave up two runs on five hits and two walks while striking out four. He went four innings before he even gave up a hit, and Thomas said even pulling him after six innings was purely strategic.
“I thought he was excellent,” Thomas said of Brown. “We didn’t want him to go over 100 pitches anyhow, but the idea was to get them to ... start pinch-hitting those right-handers because we had those right-handed relievers.”
To do that, Thomas brought in left-handed team captain Tyler Stephan, who worked 2 1/3 innings of scoreless baseball while giving up only one hit and recording three strikeouts.
He was part of a bullpen collaboration that pitched eight innings and gave up no earned runs. South Aiken grad Caleb Smith (0-1) took the loss but gave up no hits or walks and struck out two while giving up an unearned run. Danny Wissman, Taylor Grover and Adrian Rivero also took the mound for the Pacers.
“It was good. I hate that it ended like it did because they pitched so well, but we just didn’t play offense, that’s the bottom line to it,” Thomas said.
Part of the reason for the Pacers’ struggles at the plate was the stellar effort of Patriot starter Jeffrey Stoner. The junior went eight innings, threw 129 pitches and gave up two runs on three hits while striking out 12.
One of the hits allowed was a Ty Barkell home run in the fifth inning, a rare mistake on a first-pitch slider, according to Thomas. The other Pacer run came when Ryan Metzler singled in Bill Gerstenslager in the seventh after Gerstenslager reached on a dropped third strike.
“He was challenging us, and that was kind of strange to me. He just kept, boom, boom, coming right in there one us,” Thomas said. “But his slider was really good, and he kept getting ahead of us and throwing that slider, and we couldn’t hit it.”
He was relieved by John Rossi (1-1), who struck out seven in five innings of one-hit shutout work. Justin Turbeville came in to collect the save in the 14th inning, his first of the year.
The Pacers won the first game of the doubleheader 9-3 on a pair of home runs by Gerstenslager and 19 hits, a far cry from the four hits they collected in 14 innings of game two.
“I thought our guys played well all weekend, we just didn’t hit the third game,” Thomas said.
Derek Beasley (3-0) struck out 11 in the game one victory for the Pacers, who host Flagler in a three-game series that starts on Friday at 6 p.m. and ends with a Saturday doubleheader set for 1 p.m.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been the Aiken Standard since June 2010.