AIKEN, S.C. – Top-seeded and fifth-ranked USC Aiken rebounded from a first game loss to defeat fifth-seeded and 30th-ranked Tusculum, 9-2, on Friday afternoon at Roberto Hernandez Stadium.
The game was the fourth of the 2009 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional. The Pacers will next play at approximately 3 p.m. on Saturday, May 16. The Pacers opponent is not yet known as it depends on the outcome of the No. 3-No. 6 Belmont Abbey contest. If the Bobcats bow out of the tournament then the bracket will stay the same, but if Belmont Abbey drops the contest then the bracket scenario will change with five teams still in the event.
The Pacers with the victory over the Pioneers on Friday afternoon are now 40-18 on the 2009 season. The 40 wins captured by USC Aiken in 2009 give Coach Thomas’ Pacers five straight 40-win seasons.
Tusculum with the loss becomes the first team to depart from the 2009 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional. The Pioneers end their year at 36-18.
The visiting team in the game, USC Aiken started off the game strongly with 2009 Daktronics Southeast Region Player of the Year Travis Howard bringing in his first two runs of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional in the top of the first inning to give the Pacers an early 2-0 advantage. Howard slapped a line drive single that found room just inside the right field line to bring in the two Pacers.
The two RBIs garnered Howard his 101st and 102nd RBIs of the 2009 season.
Just one inning later, Alex Franklin acquired two more runs for the Pacers on a two-run blast to left center field. The fourth tater of the year for Franklin earned the Pacers a 4-0 lead through two innings.
The four runs picked up the Pacers in the opening two frames were enough to knock Tusculum starter and 2009 South Atlantic Conference Pitcher of the Year C.J. Hillyer out of the game having just pitched 1.2 innings. Hillyer gave up five hits during his time on the hill and all four of the Pacer runs in the first two frames were earned.
The Pacers were able to manufacture another run in the top of the third via Jamie Benjamin, who had singled up the middle to get on base. Benjamin then stole second to get in scoring position. A little while later, Benjamin was able to claim third base on a throwing error by Tusculum catcher Sean Cotten.
With Gary Asbill at bat for the Pacers, Benjamin took advantage of a wild pitch from Tusculum relief pitcher Rob Currie to score and give the Pacers a 5-0 lead.
After Sean Finucane scored in the bottom of the fifth for Tusculum’s first run of the game, USC Aiken would manufacture another run in the top of the sixth inning. Franklin scored the run after kicking off the stanza by collecting a double. He waltzed home easily on a two-base error by the Tusculum rightfielder Jared Richmond.
The Pioneers down 6-1, Tusculum would cut the Pacer lead down by one more run in the bottom of the sixth when Aaron Hudgins scored from third on a throwing error by Howard. The Pioneers would threaten once again in the bottom of the seventh inning, but with the bases loaded with two outs USC Aiken starting pitcher Steven Spire was up to the task in the inning as he struck out Tusculum’s Tyler Collins to end the Pioneer threat in the frame.
The Pacers would take advantage of Spire’s proficiency on the hill in their next at bat, scoring two more runs to take an 8-2 lead. Ken Raborn obtained the first run of the inning for USC Aiken when he singled up the middle to bring in Franklin. Raborn was then brought home a little while later for the eighth run of the contest for the Pacers on a single to right center field by Nick Aranas.
USC Aiken would tack on another run to acquire the seven-run win.