No. 2 LANDER 12 No. 13 USC AIKEN 8 (10 Innings)
By JEREMY TIMMERMAN
GREENVILLE — Despite scoring six unanswered runs on Friday, the No. 13 USC Aiken baseball team couldn’t overcome eight errors and lost 12-8 in a 10-inning elimination game at the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.
The Pacers (36-17) rallied from an 8-2 hole to tie the game in the bottom of the eighth, but the Bearcats (49-6) scored four in the 10th to remain unbeaten in the regional.
“I’ve been saying for the last six weeks, if we could ever put it all together, we’d be a good team,” said head coach Kenny Thomas after his team’s season came to an end. “Today, we just flat didn’t play defense.”
After striking out the side in the ninth, Jimmy Lynch (0-1) took the loss by surrendering all four runs in the 10th on four hits and a balk.
“I really wasn’t fond of sending Jimmy Lynch back out in the 10th, but he was our best guy at the end,” Thomas said.
Brandon White (4-2) gave up the tying run but stayed on for the final three innings to collect the win, surrendering just two hits.
The mistakes began early for the Pacers, who were playing as the home team despite the game being at Lander’s Dolny Stadium, although freshman starter Matt Hissong was able to mostly work around them for the first four innings.
Hissong’s own throwing error allowed leadoff hitter Erik Lunde to reach in the first, but he induced three straight pop-ups to strand the shortstop. In the second inning, a pair of errors and a hit batter loaded the bases, but the freshman gave up just one run on a sacrifice fly and a double play.
The double play was a rare bright spot defensively, as right fielder Tyler Moore caught a fly ball and then got the throw in to second base in time to catch Graham Ramos off the bag.
“I thought Hissong pitched pretty good; we just couldn’t play defense,” Thomas said.
The next Lander run came in the fourth, when Thomas Bess hit a double to the right field corner, which was bobbled by Moore to allow Bess to reach third. Bess then scored when second baseman Ryan Metzler’s throw to third went awry, marking two errors on the same play.
“We did it to ourselves,” Thomas said of the loss.
The error was one of three on the day for Metzler, who came into the game with just 11 in 135 attempts.
USCA answered the bell for the first time in the bottom of the fourth. Sean Miller and Moore led off the frame with back-to-back singles, and first baseman Ty Barkell was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
From there, the Pacers did enough to tie the game at 2-all, but perhaps not as much as they could have. Metzler drove in the first run with a sacrifice fly, and TJ Costen drove in another with a fielder’s choice that took down Barkell at second. Costen then stole second before a Charlie Padilla walk, but Grayson Smith struck out the end the threat.
That’s when the Bearcats struck for their biggest inning.
After a flyout by Conner Lewis, three straight Lander hitters reached on base hits to make the score 3-2 in the Bearcats’ favor. With the USCA bullpen warming in earnest, Colby Painter laced a three-run home run to right center to give the host school a 6-2 lead.
That brought in Ben Black to pitch for the Pacers, but Thomas said he still wasn’t disappointed in Hissong at that point.
“I thought Hissong was pitching well. It wasn’t his fault,” the coach said. “We made that change just to try something different.”
A walk and a single followed by a passed ball had runners at second and third, and the Pacers chose to intentionally walk Chris Hyatt after a 2-0 count to load the bases for two of the Peach Belt Conference’s most dangerous hitters – Patrick Grady and Lewis.
The gamble seemed to pay off as Grady struck out and Lewis hit a grounder to second, but Metzler bobbled it. After nearly securing the out at second anyway, Miller also made a gaffe on an attempt to throw home, marking another play with two errors involved, this time allowing two runs to score.
Lander led 8-2, but an inning later, the Pacers began chipping away.
They notched four runs on four hits, which included an RBI single by Metzler, a two-RBI double by Padilla and an RBI single by Smith, but again, USCA could’ve done more.
With Smith standing on second, leadoff hitter Kody Belcher attempted to call time on a 1-2 count before reliever Kyle Tate began his delivery. The umpire did not grant him time, and Belcher struck out looking to end the rally with Lander still leading 8-6.
Thomas said he told Belcher that he should’ve played on until the umpire granted the time out, but the coach was still baffled.
“I’ve never seen that before,” he said. “I understand the ump has to give you time. ... I’ve never seen that.”
The Pacers scored individual runs in the seventh and eighth innings on another sacrifice fly by Metzler and an RBI single by Moore to tie the game. Meanwhile, Caleb Smith threw two scoreless innings with just one walk and three strikeouts and Lynch threw his solid ninth.
Barkell led off the Pacer ninth with a single, and Metzler couldn’t get a sac bunt down to follow and struck out instead. Costen and Padilla flew out to end the inning tied at 8-all, with Costen’s fly going deep enough to center that it would’ve gone out of the park for a game-winning homer in almost any other part of the field.
“We had a chance to win it,” Thomas said. “Then the 10th inning, it all fell apart.”
The breakdown began when Lynch hit Grady with a pitch, followed by a single by Lewis. Both advanced on a balk, and they advanced again – with Grady scoring – on a single by Thomas Berry that perhaps could have been another error, as Miller and Dylan Durham got tangled up on a miscommunication.
The Bearcats scored two more runs on two more hits to put the game out of reach, as the Pacers managed just one base runner in the 10th when Belcher was hit by a pitch by White.
While Thomas was obviously disappointed in the defense in his team’s season-ending loss and said he was “frustrated” by a couple umpiring decisions, he couldn’t fault his pitching or his offense.
“I thought we swung it OK today,” he said. “We got some timely hit, which we didn’t get yesterday.”
The Pacers fell 3-2 on Thursday against Columbus State to set up the do-or-die scenario.
Thomas was also proud of the way his team fought back despite their mistakes on Friday.
“I’ve got to commend them because, man, they battled,” he said.
Jeremy Timmerman has a journalism degree from Mercer University. Follow him on Twitter @ASJTimm.
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman The USC Aiken infielders console freshman starting pitcher Matt Hissong as he is removed from Friday's game against Lander.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman USC Aiken relief pitcher Jimmy Lynch reacts after the Pacers' season came to an end with a 12-8 loss to Lander at the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman USC Aiken's Grayson Smith, a South Aiken grad, connects with a pitch against Lander on Friday.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman USC Aiken reliever Caleb Smith, a South Aiken graduate, throws against Lander on Friday.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman USC Aiken's Matt Hissong releases a pitch against Lander on Friday.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman USC Aiken freshman starting pitcher Matt Hissong (15) reacts after the Pacers' season came to an end with a 12-8 loss to Lander at the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.×
Staff photo by Jeremy Timmerman USC Aiken players return to the dugout after the Pacers' season came to an end with a 12-8 loss to Lander at the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.×