USC AIKEN 13, PAINE 5

The defense wasn't pretty, but the USC Aiken offense and pitching staff mostly did their jobs in a 13-5 win over Paine on Wednesday.


After compiling 10 errors in their last four games heading into the midweek contest, the Pacers (18-7) committed six more while the Lions (6-17) notched four of their own.


“We've had a little problem with that lately,” head coach Kenny Thomas said of the defensive struggles.


The fielding issues started in the first inning after Paine's Jonathan Richey led off the game with a single. He moved around and scored on two sacrifice attempts combined with two errors before starter Nick Yobbi could put out the fire by striking out Jon-Tyler Shaw with Avery Wilson standing on third base.


The Pacers didn't waste time erasing the Lions' lead, though. After leadoff hitter Kody Belcher struck out, Sean Miller walked ahead of back-to-back homers by third baseman TJ Costen and first baseman Ty Barkell. Matt Bosse followed with a double and scored on a Ryan Metzler single. South Aiken grad Ben Donath also doubled before Randy Luckett struck out to end the first with the Pacers leading 4-1.


Thomas said that even in some of USCA's recent losses, hitting hasn't been an issue.


“Tonight, I thought we swung it extremely well,” he said.


Costen, who came into the game with a sore foot, batted once more for a 2-for-2 night before being removed.


“I didn't want to take any chances there,” Thomas said. “And it gave Cory Bryant a chance to play a couple positions there.”


Bryant, another South Aiken product, came in for Costen and third base and moved to second base in the eighth inning. He went 1-for-2 with a pair of runs scored and an RBI on the night.


The Pacers never trailed after the first inning, but things got closer than the home team would've liked against a squad it beat 17-0 two weeks ago.


Roberto Hernandez Jr. came in to pitch the fifth but surrendered two walks and two doubles, which coupled with a throwing error by catcher Ben Donath, allowed the Lions to cut the Pacer lead to 6-4.


Again the Pacer offense had an answer, as Bryant drove in Kody Belcher with an infield single in the bottom of the inning before Bosse blasted a three-run homer to center field to push the game out of reach.


After hitting just one home run in February, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound outfielder has connected for seven in March to take the team lead and is now hitting .333, a result of his willingness to learn from the Pacer coaching staff.


“First of the year, he struggled a little bit, and he kind of listened,” Thomas said. “He's learned how to go the other way a little bit.”


Paine scored once more on a triple by Shaw followed by an error by Pacer reliever Cole Lee in the eighth inning, but USCA answered again with three more runs in the bottom of the frame.


Outside of a tough inning for Hernandez, Thomas was pleased with his pitchers' performance for the night. The other seven Pacers who took the hill combined to give up five hits, one walk and no earned runs while striking out eight Lions.


“The thing I like about tonight is we had a lot of young guys that we threw,” Thomas said of the group that included four freshman and two sophomores. “For the most part, they attacked the strike zone.”


He added that it was “good to be back home” for the start of an eight-game stretch at Roberto Hernandez Stadium, but the team will need to do some rehab work for this weekend's home series against Peach Belt Conference foe North Georgia. In addition to Costen, Tyler Moore – the team's regular right fielder – was held out of the game to rest up a sore leg, and Barkell left the game after the sixth inning with a jammed knee.


“We've got to get those three guys healthy,” Thomas said of the three players, all of whom hit in the top half of the order.


The Pacers' series with North Georgia is set to begin on Saturday with a 1 p.m. doubleheader.


Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.