Pacers charge past Rams late
USC AIKEN 7, SHEPHERD 5
USC Aiken baseball coach Kenny Thomas will have to go back and look at the tape from Friday night’s game to find out exactly how Shepherd scored five runs on just four hits.
It wasn’t at all the way a coach would draw it up, but the game ultimately ended in the best possible way for the Pacers – with a come-from-behind win. USCA rallied back from a 4-3 deficit in the sixth inning for a 7-5 win in the series opener at Roberto Hernandez Stadium.
“It was just kind of a crazy game,” Thomas said. “We looked like at one point we’d roll on, then we’d get back in trouble not throwing strikes. Then we’d keep battling back and make a play here or there, or strike out a guy, to get us out of the inning. It was just a weird game.”
Catcher Luke Leisenring went 4-for-4 at the plate and scored three runs, and his solo home run in the bottom of the sixth tied the game at 4. Trey Polewski drew a two-out walk and scored all the way from first on Sean McQuillan’s base hit down the right-field line, and the Pacers led the rest of the way.
USCA (4-1) didn’t allow a hit over the final three innings, but Shepherd still put men on base and had a chance to tie or take the lead.
Chandler Rogers gave the Pacers an insurance run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh when he drove a 3-2 pitch to right to score Blake Bottomley. That run came in handy when relief pitcher Blake Seigler got into some trouble in the eighth.
The Rams pulled back within one when leadoff batter Trenton Burgreen was hit in the helmet, then moved to second and third before eventually scoring on two wild pitches and a throwing error.
Seigler settled down and got two key outs, then Thomas made the call to the bullpen for Henry Cartrett after an error gave the Rams a runner on first base.
The Strom Thurmond product shut the game down from there, working around a walk and retiring four consecutive batters, three on strikes, to preserve the win.
“Well, I saw him walk the first batter, which kind of scared me,” Thomas said. “Uncharacteristic of him. Then he got the next guy out, and I felt good with him in the ninth.”
USCA got another run in the bottom of the eighth to go back ahead by two. McQuillan scored on Philip Watcher’s bunt, but only after narrowly avoiding a tag at first base as he retreated back to the bag.
USCA runners made a habit out of beating tags Friday, and the close call in the eighth was enough to send the Shepherd dugout over the edge. Head coach Matt McCarty came out to air his grievances with the first base umpire and was promptly ejected – a warning had been issued after a previous disputed call.
Leisenring was involved in a couple of those. The first came in the bottom of the second, when he slid under a tag at home plate to get the Pacers to within 2-1. It happened again in the fourth, when he slid face-first through the dirt into third base for a triple. Rogers then drove him in with an RBI groundout that gave him a much more leisurely trot to the plate.
“I’ve never had to work that hard (on the base paths) in my life,” he said with a laugh. “Tried to go for some swim moves, tried to just avoid some tags and make some calls on our side. That’s kind of how it goes sometimes. Luck was on our side today, so it was really good.”
Thomas didn’t think starting pitcher Mitch Spence, who was sick earlier in the week, had his best stuff Friday, but he battled for 4⅔ innings. Spence allowed two runs, one earned, on three hits and struck out seven. The Rams got to Daniel Wiggins and tied the game, eventually taking a 4-3 lead, but Jon Yarbrough (1-0) stopped the rally and picked up the win. Cartrett earned the save.
Leisenring led four Pacers with multi-hit games. South Aiken products Joey Smithers and Alex Mills each had two, as did McQuillan.
The teams take the field at noon Saturday for the second game of the series.