USC Aiken’s baseball team enters the Peach Belt Conference Tournament holding the top spot in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll, thanks in large part to winning a majority of the series it has played this year.
To be exact, the top-seeded Pacers (41-9) won 11 of their 13 three-game series during the regular season, but one of the two they lost is at the forefront tonight against No. 8 seed Montevallo (31-18). The teams will square of at 8:30 p.m., the fourth of four first-round matchups scheduled for today at Lander University in Greenwood.
When the teams met on March 29 and 30 at Montevallo, the Falcons took the first game by a score of 12-10 before the Pacers took the second 10-6. Montevallo won the series with a 6-1 victory in the final game.
While every PBC series counts, tonight’s game could have much bigger implications. USCA was ranked second in the most recent Southeast Regional poll, and with No. 1 Mount Olive having already lost in the Conference Carolinas Tournament, the Pacers could host the regional with a solid performance this week.
“Hopefully we’re motivated to win the conference tournament,” said USCA head coach Kenny Thomas, who noted that his team has been seeking to “leave no doubt” heading into the NCAA Tournament selections. “Hopefully, our motivation is we’re starting the Peach Belt Tournament, and we want to win this tournament.”
Montevallo, meanwhile, was seventh in the region at last update, and only the top six will make it into the NCAA Tournament field.
Two of the PBC’s top hitters will be on display in the matchup, led by Montevallo’s Vinny Rodriguez, whose .395 batting average is third in the conference. Rodriguez went 4-for-12 with three runs scored in the Falcons’ series victory earlier this season.
Gerstenslager went 3-for-12 with a run scored and four RBIs in the set but saw his 20-game hitting streak end in the third game. His .387 batting average is good for a tie for fifth-best in the PBC, and he leads the league in doubles with 21.
Thomas said he would send lefthander Derek Beasley (9-0, 3.80 ERA) to the mound tonight against Montevallo’s Josh Clemen (4-3, 4.04), who pitched a complete game in the third game against the Pacers in March.
The winner of tonight’s game has another late night ahead on Thursday, when it will face the winner of today’s matchup beween fourth-seeded Lander and No. 5 seed UNC Pembroke at 8:30 p.m. The USCA-Montevallo loser will face the Lander-UNCP loser Thursday at 5 p.m.
Pacers earn All-PBC honors
The postseason honors for the Pacers began in earnest at the PBC baseball banquet on Tuesday.
Head coach Kenny Thomas was named the conference coach of the year, and shortstop Sean Miller was selected as the league’s top freshman. Miller hit .290 for the season with 35 RBIs and 25 runs scored for the season. Thomas led the Pacers to their first No. 1 ranking since 1993 and picked up his second PBC coach of the year award, having also won in 2009.
“We got a lot of awards tonight, and I was really proud of them,” Thomas said, deferring to his players. “Good players make good coaches; it ain’t the other way around.”
USCA also had six players named the All-PBC first team. In addition to Gerstenslager, first baseman Ty Barkell, second baseman Ryan Metzler, outfielder Bryce Baur, starting pitcher Derek Beasley and closer Taylor Grover each received a first team nod. Grover, a Midland Valley grad, leads the league in saves with 11.
Senior catcher Josh Miller was selected to the second team as a utility player, and starting pitcher Ryan Milewski also got a second-team spot.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.
PBC Baseball Tournament
• No. 7 Georgia College vs. No. 2 Columbus State, 10 a.m.
• No. 6 Francis Marion vs. No. 3 Armstrong, 1:30 p.m.
• No. 5 UNC Pembroke vs. No. 4 Lander, 5 p.m.
• No. 8 Montevallo vs. No. 1 USC Aiken, 8:30 p.m.
All tournament games can be heard live on WKSX, 92.7 FM.