No. 16 UNC PEMBROKE 14, NO. 1 USC AIKEN 3
GREENWOOD — Head coach Kenny Thomas had a more than appropriate description for his team's 14-3 elimination-game loss to UNC Pembroke in the Peach Belt Conference Baseball Tournament on Thursday.
“It was just a dadgum circus is what it was,” Thomas said.
The Pacers (41-11), ranked No. 1 in the country and the top-seeded team in the tournament, committed five errors and four wild pitches on the game while allowing 14 hits and four walks.
Second baseman Ryan Metzler committed three errors on the day after having only nine coming into the game, and first baseman Ty Barkell was credited with two after making only three prior to Thursday.
“I mean, even guys that's so reliable for us all year, they're just kicking it around,” Thomas said of Metzler and Barkell.
USCA starter Wyatt Brown (6-4) took the loss after 4 ⅔ innings of work that included eight hits and a walk for nine runs. Only four of the runs were earned.
Connor Pratt (3-3) pitched a complete game for the Braves, allowing three earned runs on seven hits. All three Pacer runs came on solo home runs.
Bryce Baur was the first Pacer to strike with a dinger in the top of the first. The shot could have yielded two runs, but Branden Millhouse – who led off with a walk and went 2-for-3 on the day – got caught stealing.
The 1-0 lead held up for the Pacers until the bottom of the third, when the Braves got a pair of runs. Drew Alford reached on Metzler's first error to start off the frame and later scored on Metzler's second gaffe of the frame. Daniel Fraga, who walked, later scored on a Jordan Edgerton sacrifice fly.
The inning started a stretch of nine unanswered runs by the Braves to put the game out of reach. The Pacer bullpen was shaky for the second game in a row, allowing five runs in addition to two of Browns' runs that scored on a single off Zach Hayden, who came on in the fifth inning with runners on first and second.
Thomas wasn't ready to put off much blame on his relief pitchers, though.
“I don't know if it was really the bullpen because when you kick the ball around like we did, it doesn't matter how you pitch,” Thomas said.
The Pacers ended the scoring streak with a pair of solo home runs in the sixth inning. The first was a shot to left by senior Josh Miller to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, and the second was a blast to right by designated hitter Bill Gerstenslager.
The runs briefly stemmed the tide, but the Braves answered with four of their own to quell any thoughts of a comeback.
Thomas, who said after Wednesday's 7-4 loss to Montevallo that perhaps his team was too tense, had a different tune after Thursday's game.
“We just weren't ready to play up here,” he said. “Maybe we wasn't hard enough on them in the last six days. We had exams, and I was trying to go easy on them, give them some time and a lot of short practices. ... Evidently that didn't work.”
UNCP will continue its quest for a PBC Tournament title in another do-or-die contest at 1:30 p.m. today against the loser between Lander and Montevallo.
The Pacers will now attempt to turn around and get ready for the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional. Thomas said that Mount Olive, which lost in the Conference Carolinas tournament but was No. 1 in the last regional poll, will still likely get to host.
He added that, if there was a bright spot to the loss, it was that his team's poor play showed up a week before NCAA tournament play began.
“All I can say is it's better today than next week,” Thomas said. “We got six days to fix it.”
The selection show for the regional will be held Sunday at 10 p.m. and can be seen at www.ncaa.com
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University and has been at the Aiken Standard since June 2010.