USC Aiken head softball coach Jerry Snyder is confident in his team’s pitching for the 2013 season.

He’s got reason to be. Junior India Kornegay is back for her third season in the circle for the Pacers (3-3) and has already cleared a milestone this season with her 500th career strikeout. Now with 516 punchouts in her career, Kornegay (1-2) is also already the program’s career leader in the category with lots of time to put a further death grip on that designation.

After Kornegay downplayed the acheivement a bit, Snyder made sure to emphasize how meaningful 500 strikeouts really was.

“India is kind of modest; 500 strikeouts, that’s a really big accomplishment for a pitcher,” he said. “She works hard, and she does her job, and her job is to go out there and stop hitters.”

As evident with her strikeout rate, not to mention 20 wins and a 1.78 earned run average in her sophomore season, Kornegay has been efficient fulfilling that duty so far. Still, Snyder is excited about the other half of his pitching tandem that will attack doubleheaders this season, Taylor Morgan.

A freshman out of Chapin, Morgan (2-1) was selected to multiple All-State and All-Area teams during her prep career. With Morgan set to take the circle in game two most days, Snyder feels good about how aggressively Kornegay will be able to pitch in game one knowing she likely won’t be expected to pitch again in the second game.

“We have the best pitching in the conference; there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “India ... she’s so modest she’d never admit it .. she is the best pitcher in our conference, probably the best pitcher in our region, and coaches know that. ... The thing that they don’t know, the surprise is, we have another pitcher that’s probably going to be in the top five along with her with Taylor. And so that’s going to give us the best two pitchers in the conference, in the region, probably in Division II softball as a whole.”

Morgan isn’t the only impact freshman to join the Pacers this season. Sarah Montei, a product of Summerville High School, has taken over center field for USCA and is second on the team in batting average on the young season with a .412 mark that includes two doubles.

Snyder has been impressed with the way Montei – who he said was likely the “best player in the state” at the high school level in 2012 – has performed in such a crucial position in her first year with the program.

“We’re very fortunate to have signed her,” he said. “I think she’s probably hitting in the .400s, real good on-base percentage and getting the job done in center field as a freshman.”

Montei joins an outfield rotation that also includes junior Brittany Williamson – who is batting .333 and already has a home run in the team’s lone win over Catawba – as well as Brandy Bossie and Shannon Traylor.

The infield is anchored by third baseman and North Augusta product Lindsey Jones. The senior is batting .333 and has the team’s other home run so far this season. Joining her on the diamond are first baseman Cortney Sadler, second baseman Kaitlyn White and shortstop Victoria Burkett. Senior Nicole Borden serves as the team’s catcher.

Snyder thinks that his team has the potential to be solid, but it has been derailed in the season’s early going by illness. For that reason, a recent streak of cancellations due to weather – will give his squad some much-needed time to regroup and get healthy as a team.

“I think it’s going to help us at the start of the season,” he said. “In 27 years, I’ve never had such bad luck with the flu. Our last two weeks before the start of the season, every day at practice we’d have three or four kids out sick, and when they’d get better and come in, another three or four would go down.”

When the Pacers do return to action on Monday at 1 and 3 p.m. against King in Tennessee and Wednesday at 2 and 4 p.m. at Erskine, Snyder said his team will be continuing a campaign to collect something it didn’t get a year ago. The Pacers finished their 2012 season 10-10 in the Peach Belt Conference, came up short in the conference tournament and missed the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional after making the field in 2011.

“That has burned a hole in us, believe me, and we want to get back to those regionals,” Snyder said.

Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.