No. 8 USC AIKEN 13, NORTH GEORGIA 2
DAHLONEGA, Ga. — Friday was an unusual day for the eighth-ranked USC Aiken baseball team. The Pacers claimed their eighth consecutive win with a 13-2 victory on the road over Peach Belt Conference foe North Georgia. But what was scheduled to be a doubleheader at Bob Stein Stadium was limited to just one game.
That's because an older North Georgia fan was discovered to have died in between games. Out of respect to the fan, who was reported to have a close relationship with the members of the Saints' coaching staff, the second game was postponed. Weather permitting, it will be made up as part of a doubleheader today.
“Some elderly gentleman, a big fan of North Georgia was sitting in a chair between our bullpen and dugout,” USCA head coach Kenny Thomas explained. “After the game, Ty Barkell walked by and said 'that man down there looks like he's dead.' … Our trainer ran out and hollered at their trainer, who laid him down and started CPR and called an ambulance.
“I've never experienced anything like that before,” said Thomas, who has been in baseball most of his life and has coached more than 1,500 games. “I felt awful.”
The tragic occurrence might have tempered the Pacers' momentum. They scored more than 10 runs for the eighth consecutive game, improving their record to 23-5 on the season and 10-3 against PBC opponents. But the combination of the death and the strong possibility that bad weather could alter or stop today's games from being played.
“We accept that,” Thomas said of delaying game two of the series, while taking a straightforward approach with his players about the situation. “It's a sad thing. It's emotional. Some of theses guys have never seen anything like that before.”
Thomas said he expects his players to bounce back today. If the Pacers can maintain their torrid pace at the plate, there's no reason to expect them to struggle. USCA opened its win over North Georgia (9-16, 3-7 PBC) by plating four runs in the top of the first inning. It never let up and scored six runs in the top half of the sixth inning. The Pacers out hit the Saints 16-11 in the game.
“We played real well and swung the bat real good,” Thomas said. “We got momentum going early. It was really good to score four runs early.”
Six Pacers finished with multiple hits. Branden Millhouse, Bill Gerstenslager and Ryan Metzler each had three hits in the game.
Millhouse was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI. Gerstenslager went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and one RBI, coming on a home run. The designated hitter is on a 15-game hitting streak.
That's just ahead of Metzler, who was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and one run scored and has now hit safely in 13 consecutive games.
They both trail Barkell, who has hit safely in 19 games in a row. Barkell, Ben Donath and Josh Miller each had two hits. Miller had three RBIs and a run scored, while Donath scored two runs and drove in two more.
“Offense, from top to bottom, played well,” Thomas said.
USCA starting pitcher Ryan Milewski (3-2) struck out four in his five innings on the hill to pick up the win. He overcame a rocky start and looked impressive before being removed because of leg cramps.
“Milewski gave up two runs in the first inning, but shut the door after that,” Thomas said. “He was cramping in his calf, it's nothing serious, but it was 50 degrees and I took him out.”
North Georgia starter Taylor Keinat (1-4) allowed 12 runs in four innings.
“It was a good win for us,” said Thomas, who send Derek Beasley to the mound for the first game today, slated to start at 1 p.m. Wyatt Brown will start the third game.
While everybody involved was dealing with a mix of emotions, Thomas was able to find a silver lining.
“It's a situation that's a part of life and a sad thing,” he said. “But supposedly, he never missed a game, loved baseball and was sitting in a chair watching the team he loved. What better way could you go?”
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.