No. 5 USC Aiken 4, Shorter 3


Bill Gerstenslager blasted a two-run game-winning home run in the fifth inning and the nationally fifth-ranked USC Aiken baseball team claimed its eighth straight win in a 4-3 non-conference victory over first-time foe Shorter on Wednesday afternoon at Roberto Hernandez Stadium.

Down 3-1 to Shorter entering the bottom of the fifth, Sean Miller kicked off the inning for USCA (35-8) by singling to right field. He then advanced to second on a wild pitch.

With two outs on the board, Bryce Baur then singled in Miller to pull the Pacers within one at 3-2. Gerstenslager then belted his sixth home run of the year to secure the Pacer victory.

The senior designated hitter had a good junior year last year with a .307 batting average, but his .406 average this season is second-best in the Peach Belt Conference, as are his 19 doubles. USCA head coach Kenny Thomas said Gestenslager’s increased output is a product of his preparation efforts.

“He’s worked so hard. The guy, he puts forth a great effort every day in practice and in the weight room,” Thomas said. “He’s started this year realizing what makes him successful.”

USCA out-hit Shorter (13-27), 9-7, in the game.

Tyler Moore was the only Pacer to obtain multiple hits in the game as he was 2-for-4.

Walker Borneman led Shorter in its loss to USCA with two hits and three RBIs.

Five Pacer pitchers saw the mound on Wednesday with Tyler Stephan claiming the win on the hill in relief of starter Adrian Rivero, who pitched the first four innings. Stephan is now 3-0 on the year.

Thomas said Rivero experienced some cramping in the first inning, when he gave up his only run of the game, due in part to an error. Rivero gave up three hits and no walks in his four innings of work.

“I really don’t think he had his best stuff today, but he battled,” Thomas said of Rivero. “He gave up that run in the first inning, but then he settled down and battled.”

Midland Valley grad Taylor Grover retired the side in order in the ninth inning to collect his ninth save of the season. Grover fanned two of the three batters he faced.

Shorter starter Russell Crosby (2-8) suffered the loss on the mound. Crosby struck out five, but allowed all four Pacer runs.

The Peach Belt Conference-leading Pacers will next close out their week by welcoming Columbus State to Roberto Hernandez Stadium for a three-game Peach Belt Conference series on Saturday and Sunday. The series will begin with a doubleheader on Saturday with first pitch in game one scheduled for 1 p.m.

Thomas said that, while his team wasn’t intentionally overlooking Wednesday’s game against Shorter, the Pacers didn’t have quite the energy level they normally do with the big PBC series looming in a few days. Columbus State, like Lander in USCA’s most recent weekend series, is sitting in second place in the conference.

“It was a tough game for us today because obviously our minds are elsewhere,” he said. “Now we’re through this, and we’re ready to go into the weekend.”

The league series will close with a single 1 p.m. game on Sunday, April 21. Sunday’s game will serve as Pack the Park and City of Aiken Baseball Day at the ’Bert.

The weekend series against Columbus State will also serve as USCA baseball Alumni Weekend.