USC Aiken head baseball coach Kenny Thomas gathered his team following Sunday's win over Shepherd to brief them on the challenge lying ahead.
It's a whole new level of play starting this weekend – Peach Belt Conference play is here.
North Georgia visits Roberto Hernandez Stadium for a three-game series, beginning Friday at 4 p.m.
"It's 11 straight weekends, man. When I say it's a marathon, not a sprint, that's what it is," Thomas said. "It's 11 straight weekends in the Peach Belt starting Friday and, gosh, we know how tough it is in the Peach Belt and how every weekend is a battle."
Thomas has seen some good things and some bad things through two weekends from his Pacers (6-0), who are batting .359 as a team and have scored 71 runs.
The starting pitching has been mostly to his liking, with Friday starter Lindsey Robinson Jr. (2-0, 0.00 ERA) leading the staff with just one hit allowed through 11 innings. Like Robinson, Zach Fordham (0-0, 2.57) and Daniel Lee (0-0, 7.94) will be counted on to get through the batting order a couple of times and then turn the game over to the bullpen.
Thomas has expressed displeasure with some of the relievers he's counting on the most – Henry Cartrett, Austin Sandifer and closer Blake Seigler – and their performance will be especially important against PBC lineups.
Additionally, Thomas wants his team to get better defensively. All seven of the Pacers' errors so far this season have come from some critical positions on the infield dirt, so Thomas is hoping to get that dialed in and control the game on the mound in order to have success against the PBC gauntlet.
"If you open up the barn door, it's very difficult to get it closed," he said. "You've got to keep the barn door shut when it needs to be shut. It's just the way it is."
The Pacers know the type of challenge North Georgia (6-0) presents – the Nighthawks pitch well and will send out three strong starters, and they've got a lineup full of strong bats. It's the same story that will be told from this weekend until the end of April when PBC play wraps up, and then again when the conference tournament begins.
The Nighthawks are batting .374 as a team and are averaging 12 runs scored per game. The preseason favorite to win the PBC, North Georgia placed three players on the league's preseason all-conference team and has all three reigning weekly award winners – Player of the Week Andres Perez, Pitcher of the Week Steven Bower and two-time Freshman of the Week Tim Conway.
The second game of the series is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, and the finale is set for 1 p.m. Sunday.