NO. 10 USC AIKEN 10, LINCOLN MEMORIAL 6

By NOAH FEIT


nfeit@aikenstandard.com


Coming into Friday’s season-opening game, USC Aiken baseball coach Kenny Thomas had raved about his team’s defense, pitching and experience. He was dead on target about two elements of the 10th-ranked Pacers’s makeup, which were pivotal in their come-from-behind win over Lincoln Memorial.


The five pitchers Thomas used in the 10-6 victory at Roberto Hernandez Stadium were all good, and some were great against the Railsplitters (0-1). And the Pacers displayed their mettle and cool under fire, rallying from a three-run deficit after the first inning and coming back again for good in the sixth inning, when they plated three runs.


What USCA didn’t do was play consistent defense, struggling from the get-go with back-to-back errors to start the game, setting Lincoln Memorial up for a big inning. Overall, the Pacers committed five errors which led to all of the Railsplitters’ runs.


“The defense was uncharacteristic. It was strange,” Thomas said of the group he raved had the potential to be the best defensive team he’s had in 14 seasons with USCA. On Friday, the five errors led to six unearned runs. “We don’t make the plays, then we hit a guy and then they roll one through and they get three runs.


“Before you know it, we’ve committed five errors and give up six runs.”


In spite of the defensive misplays – some of which can be blamed on first-game jitters, biting cold temperatures, difficult sun fields and even a strange call by the umpires on a ball thrown by preseason All-American catcher Josh Miller that ricocheted off a Lincoln Memorial player’s helmet – the play that turned the momentum of the game around was a defensive gem.


In the top of the sixth, the Railsplitters led 6-5 and had runners on second and third with no outs. Their catcher Nick Pressley scorched a Tyler Stephan (1-0) pitch to center field, where Byrce Baur tracked it down for one out.


Lincoln Memorial’s Scott Miller broke off third base, trying to add to the lead by tagging up. But Baur fired the ball to home, where Josh Miller cleanly fielded the laser-like throw and applied the tag in time to get the out.


“That was a big play. It was a do-or-die throw, and Josh did a great job tagging the guy,” Thomas said.


“It was a big play and kept us one run down.”


The Pacers weren’t down for long. In the bottom half of the inning, they scored four times to take the lead. It started when freshman shortstop Sean Miller – known more for his glove than bat – hit a leadoff double and moved to third on a wild pitch. Fellow freshman Tyler Moore then drew a walk and stole second. Josh Miller’s sac fly scored Sean Miller, tying the game, and moved Moore to third. With the game seemingly hanging in the balance, designated hitter Bill Gerstenslager (1-for-4, two RBIs, one run) drilled a double to center that scored Moore.


The Pacers’ lead quickly doubled when first baseman Ty Barkell (1-for-4, two RBIs, one run) followed with another double and immediately scored when Ben Donath (3-for-3, two RBIs, two runs) hit a shot to center that Lincoln Memorial’s Cody Baker misplayed into a run-scoring triple.


“The offense had some good at-bats and very timely hits. It was a real positive,” Thomas said, praising the performance of Donath, who only got the start at third base because left-handed pitcher Brandon Cowan took the hill for Lincoln Memorial. Donath’s part of a platoon with JJ Loker at the hot corner. “Donath played extremely well.”


Some other Pacers who played very well were Danny Wissmann, Sam Daniel and Taylor Grover – half of the group of relief pitchers known as the Sick ’Ems. Ryan Mileswki started the game and pitched four solid innings, undone by the shoddy defense. He was replaced by Stephan, who delivered two solid shutout innings that allowed USCA to rally and bridge the gap to the nasty relief pitchers who retired all nine Railsplitters they faced – seven by strikeout.


“That’s their role, to shorten the game,” Thomas said. “Stephan got us to that point and pitched well. (Relief pitching) was a big part of the game, and we dominated from the fifth or sixth inning on.”


Wissman was first out of the bullpen and recorded three punchouts. Daniel followed him and sandwiched a liner into Donath’s glove around two more strikeouts. Midland Valley product Grover made his trademark leap over the bullpen fence before striking out the first two batters he faced and finally inducing a game-ending grounder to new second baseman Ryan Metzler ((2-for-3, two RBIs, one run).


“The pitching was really good and that’s what this team is about,” said Thomas, who will send Derek Beasley to the mound today at 1 p.m. to take on Lincoln Memorial’s Logan Sawyer. “Like I always say, ‘Tomorrow is another day.’ The defense wasn’t very good today, but the pitching was very good today and the hitting was very good today.”


LM 300 300 000 – 6 4 1


USCA 023 004 01x – 10 11 5


WP: Tyler Stephan (1-0)


LP: Seth Woods (0-1)


Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than a dozen years after graduating from Syracuse University.