For the second weekend in a row, the USC Aiken baseball team is hitting the road for an important series against a Peach Belt Conference opponent. The Pacers (10-2, 3-0) are looking to duplicate last weekend’s success, when they swept Francis Marion to get a leg up in the very early season standings.
“We’re road warriors for two straight weekends,” longtime USCA head coach Kenny Thomas said of his Pacers, who haven’t been away from Roberto Hernandez Stadium this often, this early in several seasons.
This weekend the Pacers, ranked third in the most recent National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association poll, are in St. Augustine, Fla., to face the Flagler Saints (8-5, 2-4). The teams will open up a three-game series at Drysdale Field with a doubleheader today. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m., the same time as Sunday’s series finale.
Thomas is wary of the Saints, especially in their home park. They’ve been tough on opponents this season at Drysdale Field, posting a 5-1 record. Thomas expects the Saints will be eager to return to their friendly confines, after going 3-4 in their past seven games – all on the road. That includes a pair of series losses to PBC rivals Lander and Georgia College.
“That’s a tough place to play, they’re really good at home,” Thomas said. “They’re swinging the bat good so we’re going to have to pitch good and play defense.”
Quality pitching won’t come easy for the Pacers, who will be without staff ace Derek Beasley. The senior southpaw and staff ace pulled a hamstring last week attempting to cover first base and has been ruled out for this weekend. While Thomas expects Beasley (3-0, 0.00) to return next week, he didn’t want to jeopardize his health for the long run this season by trying to rush him to the mound today.
“It’s going to be tough and hurts not having Beasley. This is the first weekend he’s missed since he was a freshman,” Thomas said. “I’d like to have him out there but I want him to get well and hope he’ll be back next weekend. This is a long season and there’s going to be bumps in the road. We’ve got to handle it and have guys step up.”
The starting pitchers Thomas will call on are regular weekend starters Danny Wissmann (2-0, 1.47) and Taylor Peed (2-0, 2.45), as well as freshman Nick Yobbi (0-0, 5.06). This will be Yobbi’s second start of the season after he got the nod against Shepherd in the opener of the Prestige Appliance Classic. Yobbi pitched six innings in that game, not factoring in the decision.
He’ll start on Sunday and face a lineup that has four regulars batting .340 or better to date. The Saints are led by Andrew Brodbeck, the Peach Belt Conference’s Baseball current Player of the Week. For the season, the junior second baseman is batting .418 with two home runs, 18 RBIs and 17 runs scored. Last week he hit .600 with a 1.000 slugging percentage. Brodbeck went 6-for-6 in the opener against Georgia College, becoming only the seventh player in PBC history to collect six or more hits in a game (only the third to do so in a league game). He drove in seven runs in that contest with a triple and a home run. Brodbeck currently leads the PBC in triples and is fourth in RBIs and total bases, ninth in slugging and 10th in home runs.
Other bats the Pacer pitchers will have to carefully navigate include Skylar Fox (.367, 2 homers, 16 RBIs, 11 runs), Todd Juliano (.360) and Nick Kranick (.340, 1 homer, 16 RBIs, 14 runs). USCA will try to outscore Flagler, which is expected to send three lefties to the mound to start in the series. Southpaws Nathaniel Abel (2-1, 2.04), Jake Brandenberger (2-0, 2.79) and Kyle Bird (1-1, 3.72) are all expected to get starts for the Saints. Brandenberger is coming off a complete-game win last weekend and has recorded 29 strikeouts this season.
The unusual move to send so many lefties out could backfire, as the Pacers have a lineup loaded with right-handed swingers and has contributed to seven consecutive victories. And they are tough outs, from the top to the bottom of the batting order.
“We’ve stayed consistent with our lineup and it’s worked out really well in all facets of the game,” Thomas said. “We’ve been consistent and don’t depend on one or two people.”
Tyler Moore is batting .453 with 15 RBIs and 18 runs scored for the Pacers, who have five more batters hitting .295 or better this season. Sean Miller (.477, 11 RBIs, 11 runs), Ty Barkell (.333, 3 homers, 17 RBIs, 13 runs), Ryan Metzler (.333), T.J. Costen (.312, 1 homer, 13 RBIs, 11 runs) and Ben Donath (.295) have all had big hits this season.
“It’s a long season but we’re pleased with where we are today,” Thomas said. “Right now, we’re focused on winning three in Flagler.”
Noah Feit is the sports editor for the Aiken Standard and has been a professional journalist for more than 14 years after graduating from Syracuse University.
WHAT: USC Aiken Baseball
WHO: No. 3 USCA (10-2, 3-0 PBC) at Flagler (8-5, 2-4)
WHERE: Drysdale Field; St. Augustine, Fla.
WHEN: Today (1 and 4:30 p.m.), Sunday (1 p.m.)
• Danny Wissmann (2-0, 1.47) vs. Nathaniel Abel (2-1, 2.04)
• Taylor Peed (2-0, 2.45) vs. Jake Brandenberger (2-0, 2.79)
• Nick Yobbi (0-0, 5.06) vs. Kyle Bird (1-1, 3.72)
* Subject to change