USC Aiken’s sixth-ranked baseball team is about to do something it hasn’t done yet this year – go on the road.
After opening with 17 straight home games that saw the Pacers go 14-3 and 5-1 in Peach Belt Conference games, USCA will travel to play Armstrong Atlantic State in Savannah, Ga. The three-game set starts with a doubleheader today at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., and the third game will be Sunday at 1 p.m.
Head coach Kenny Thomas said that the Pirates’ home stadium, Pirate Field, hasn’t been a friendly facility to the Pacers.
“This weekend’s a big series for us,” he said, noting the Pacers got swept in Savannah last season. “It’s a very tough place to play down there; there’s no doubt about that. It’s a tough, tough place to play, and we’ve got to go down there and be ready. It’s our first road trip. ... It’s going to be a real challenge for us.”
One advantage it the Pacers will have in this series, like they have in nearly every game this season, is in the starting pitching department. Thomas will send Ryan Milewski (2-1, 0.28 ERA) and Derek Beasley (4-0, 2.88 ERA) to the mound today, and Wyatt Brown (2-0, 1.33 ERA) will take the hill tomorrow. Milewski’s ERA is the best in the PBC.
The USCA skipper said quality starts from that trio, which they’ve given in almost every instance so far, will be crucial to a successful trip.
“Our biggest thing is we’ve got to pitch,” he said. “We have to go down there and get three good starts and then get the bullpen in there and finish those games out. ... If we pitch good, we’re in good shape.”
When Thomas talks about getting to the bullpen, closer Taylor Grover (1-0) is the ultimate target. The Midland Valley grad has a league-best five saves on the year and has only given up two runs, both unearned, on five hits and four walks to go with 13 strikeouts in 111/3 innings.
The Pirates have rotated starters Juan Vera (2-2, 6.06 ERA), Chris Base (2-1, 2.22 ERA), Dylan Morrow (2-1, 4.50 ERA) and Ethan Bader (1-0, 3.86) in this season’s weekend series. In last year’s Pirate sweep, Bader closed out the first game of a doubleheader with 2/3 of an inning of work and then threw eight innings in the second game, striking out seven and surrendering two runs.
Third baseman Chase Butler, who also has a team-high two saves as a reliever, is the Pirates’ leading hitter with a .405 batting average, one home run and 13 RBIs. The Pacers are led offensively by sophomore first baseman Ty Barkell, who has a team-best .385 average, three home runs and 16 RBIs.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.