The USC Aiken Pacers have had a solid baseball program for quite some time, but this year’s squad is reaching incredible milestones.
First, the Pacers recently locked up the Peach Belt Conference regular season title. USC Aiken finished the regular season 42-8 overall and 24-6 in Peach Belt play. To win 24 games in the PBAC is amazing, because the conference is regarded as one of the top baseball leagues in America.
Experts around the country have certainly taken notice. Last week, USC Aiken jumped to No. 1 in the nation in two separate Division II baseball polls. It is the first time since 1993 that USC Aiken has been ranked No. 1.
Head coach Kenny Thomas certainly should be applauded for his team’s tremendous season. Thomas has been very smart in recruiting, getting as many Columbia County players as possible. During Thomas’s tenure in Aiken, some of the program’s finest players were Columbia County products. All-American pitchers Nick and Scott Wandless, as well as sluggers Bradley Key and Kenny Ludlow, all prepped in the county before starring for the Pacers.
The 2013 Pacer roster is also littered with kids from Columbia County – including four of its pitchers. That group has gone 14-1 this season. That means Columbia County natives have accounted for 34 percent of the team’s victories. Nine of those wins belong to former Harlem High standout Derek Beasley. The talented lefty has emerged as the Pacers’ ace this season. In 13 starts, he is a perfect 9-0 with an era of 3.80. Beasley is also among the conference leaders with 78 strikeouts in just 71 innings of work.
While Beasley has definitely been the best of the Columbia County group this year, he has not been alone. The roster features four other players who played high school ball in the county:
• Ben Black (sophomore, Lakeside); pitcher. 3-0 in 13 appearances with an era of 4.91. He has 17 strikeouts and only four walks in 22 innings.
• Sam Daniel (sophomore, Greenbrier); pitcher. He has appeared in 20 games, working 21.1 innings with 24 strikeouts and an impressive era of 3.32.
• Zach Hayden (junior, Lakeside); pitcher. Hayden has had issues with control, but he is 2-1 with a 4.86 era in 13 appearances. He also has struck out 34 batters in just 16.2 innings. That’s more than two strikeouts per inning.
• Tyler Moore (freshman, Evans); outfield. Moore has played in 33 games, making 15 starts. He is hitting a robust .386 with five doubles, a home run and 17 RBI.
The Pacers will be at Lander University in Greenwood, S.C., this week for the Peach Belt Conference Tournament, May 8-12.
Chipper to speak
Tuesday night the Augusta Sports Council will hold its annual G.A.M.E.S. Awards Banquet. The awards were established in 1991 as a way of honoring the achievements of our local athletes. G.A.M.E.S. stands for “Greater Augusta Medal of Excellence in Sports” and is one of the highest honors given to area athletes each year.
This year’s event will be extra special because the guest speaker will be recently retired Atlanta Braves star Chipper Jones. Jones was the face of the Braves franchise for nearly two decades and compiled offensive numbers that will, almost certainly, make him a first ballot Hall of Famer.
The event will be held at the Augusta Marriott and Convention Center in Augusta. Tickets cost $40 for Augusta Sports Council Members and $50 for nonmembers. There are also corporate tables available. For tickets and more information, contact the Sports Council at (706) 722-8326.
Several Columbia County players will be honored on Tuesday. Each will be given an award, and are in the running for one of two $1,500 scholarships that will be awarded (one male and one female winner).
Adaptive Star – Justin Salter (Greenbrier High School)
All-Around Female Athlete Finalist: Amanda Murphy (Augusta Prep)
Most Outstanding Female Athlete Finalist: Taylor Dupree (Greenbrier)
All-Around Male Athlete Finalist: Clint Hardy (Greenbrier)