With nine games left in the regular season, the No. 14 USC Aiken baseball team is in an intriguing situation.
The third of five ranked Peach Belt Conference teams, the Pacers (30-11, 16-8 PBC) will travel to face No. 12 Columbus State (32-11, 19-5) this weekend. Both teams will be looking to solidify a spot in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.
USCA is coming off a mid-week loss to Newberry, but of greater importance could be the Pacers’ schedule. In a recent home series against No. 3 Lander, the Pacers lost two of three. Since they don’t play the other two ranked PBC teams – No. 23 Georgia College and No. 24 UNC Pembroke – in the regular season, this three-game set against the Cougars could go a long way toward any case for or against head coach Kenny Thomas’ team regarding the regional.
Columbus State, meanwhile, has moved into first place in the PBC with a five-game winning streak, and the Cougars also won two of three games against both Georgia College and UNC Pembroke.
With only six teams in the Southeast Regional field and three reserved for conference champions, one of those PBC teams currently ranked nationally won’t advance into the postseason. So every win against a quality opponent helps.
The Pacers will begin that effort Saturday at 1 p.m., when Thomas said he will send senior lefty Derek Beasley (5-1, 3.39 ERA) to the mound. The second game of the doubleheader is set to start at 4 p.m., with freshman southpaw Matt Hissong (4-1, 3.38 ERA) getting the start.
Thomas said the starter for Sunday’s game, the series finale, will depend on a variety of factors, including which pitchers he needs to use out of the bullpen in the first two games.
The Cougars will likely start righty Mike McGinnity (5-0, 3.36 ERA), lefty Caden Ferguson (4.4, 3.97 ERA) and righty Bryan Headley (8-1, 3.59 ERA).
All the pitchers will need to keep their eyes on the basepaths, as four of the top five base stealers in the PBC will be in action. USCA’s Kody Belcher is tied for first in the league with 24 swipes, followed by teammate Tyler Moore with 21. The Cougars’ Brendan Collins is fourth with 20 steals, and teammate Jackson Oliver is tied for fifth with 18.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him Twitter @ASJTimm.