The first weekend of the USC Aiken baseball team’s season wasn’t perfect, but the results were. The Pacers swept Lincoln Memorial in the season-opening three-game series, moved up five spots in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper NCAA Division II Poll and are fifth in the nation heading into another three-game set at Roberto Hernandez Stadium this weekend.
USCA will play host to Carson-Newman, with the first of three games to be played today at 4 p.m. That will be followed by single 1 p.m. games on Saturday and Sunday.
In the first two games against the Railsplitters, the Pacers came from behind to win. They were spurred on to those victories with solid pitching and clutch hits from Ben Donath and Bryce Baur. Not surprisingly, they’re two of the team’s top hitters for the season. Donath, who’s currently platooning at third base with JJ Loker, went 6-for-8 (.750) on the weekend with two doubles, a triple, four RBIs and three runs scored. Baur’s batting .462 (6-for-13) with three RBIs, two runs scored and three extra base hits – including a lead-changing home run.
Baur and Donath were expected to be among the Pacers’ top hitters this season, along with All-American catcher Josh Miller, designated hitter Bill Gerstenslager and first baseman Ty Barkell. Head coach Kenny Thomas wasn’t as sure about what to expect from his new middle infielders – shortstop Sean Miller and second baseman Ryan Metzler. It has only been three games, but he’s got to be pleased with the early results.
Metzler transferred from Siena College to play with Miller – his former high school teammate. After hitting well last season, it’s not a surprise that Metzler has started well. He’s hitting .300 (3-for-10), with five walks, two doubles, four runs scored and two RBIs. Sean Miller’s doing his best to follow former star shortstop Stephen Carmon. He’s been good with the glove as expected, but he’s been even better at the plate. Sean Miller’s hitting .417 (5-for-12) with an RBI and two runs scored out of his position near the bottom of the batting order.
While USCA’s offense has been better than possibly predicted, the pitching has been close to what was expected. And the expectations were high.
Weekend starters Ryan Milewski and Wyatt Brown haven’t figured into a decision, but were solid in their starts. Neither allowed an earned run in nine combined innings, with 10 total strikeouts to just two walks. Fellow weekend starter Derek Beasley wasn’t as solid, getting roughed up in 2 1/3 innings of action, but led the Pacers with nine wins last season.
The bullpen has been as good as Thomas said. Tyler Stephan, Taylor Peed and Cole Lee all have wins in 4 1/3 combined innings of work, where they haven’t allowed an earned run while surrendering a single hit. And the back of the bullpen has been even better with Taylor Grover, Sam Daniel, Caleb Smith, Danny Wissmann and Jake Padgett dominating.
“We have five or six guys, I call them the Sic ’Ems, because I tell them, ‘go sic ’em,’ about the other team,” Thomas said before the start of the season. “They can go from the seventh inning on if we’re ahead.”
They’ll look to maintain their dominance against Carson-Newman, which lost two of three to Augusta State last week. They won the final game of the set and followed that with a win over Pfeiffer on Tuesday. The Eagles can score in bunches and have totaled 30 runs so far this season. They’re led by Bo Ausmus (.375, 2 home runs, 7 RBIs, 3 runs scored) and Evan Kirckpatrick (.600, 4 RBIs, 2 runs scored) which should make for an interesting matchup of power vs. power.
Against Augusta State, Chris Armstrong, Alex Britt and Quinton Yocom took the hill for Carson-Newman, with the last two pitching very well in 15 combined innings. They’ll likely be the Eagles’ starters for this three-game set when they’ll be opposed by Milewski, Beasley and Brown.
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.