AIKEN --- With his team facing elimination, USC Aiken baseball coach Kenny Thomas mixed things up with a plan that even he admitted was a bit bonkers.
With a pitcher-by-committee rotation for Saturday's Peach Belt Conference Tournament opener, Thomas half-expected to be hauled out of Roberto Hernandez Stadium in a straitjacket.
"I expected the ding bat truck out there at any time," he joked.
As crazy as it sounded, his plan worked. Four Pacers combined to shut down No. 8 Georgia College & State in a 5-4 win.
The Pacers (32-18) advance to play No. 10 Columbus State in the semifinals at 2:30 p.m. today. In other semifinal action, Georgia Southwestern will play Flagler at 11 a.m. The championship game is scheduled for 6 p.m.
USC Aiken has to win the tournament to qualify for the Division II Tournament. That's a fact the Pacers know all too well.
"If we lose, we're done," shortstop Stephen Carmon said. "Nobody wants to go home."
Thomas penciled in left-hander Tyler Stephan for his fourth start of the season. While he allowed a pair of first-inning runs, Stephan also forced the Bobcats to switch their lineup -- a move Thomas credited for the win.
Georgia College & State (35-15), the Peach Belt regular season champion, entered with the top hitting team in the league with a .357 average. But Stephan, Jason Cochcroft, Cory Dobbins and Chad Benefield combined to limit the Bobcats to a 7 for 30 effort from the plate (.222 average). All-conference center fielder Sean Harrell of Martinez, the league's leading hitter with a .474 average, went 1-for-3.
"In tournament baseball, we didn't expect to hit .350," Georgia College & State coach Tom Carty said. "(USC Aiken) was playing a little desperate. Kenny did a good job managing."
"Our hitters didn't make adjustments," said Bobcats all-conference outfielder Shawn Ward, a former Evans High School standout, who went 2 for 4 from the plate with a homer and three RBI.
USC Aiken took a 5-3 lead in the sixth inning on back-to-back, two-out RBI doubles by Stephen Carmon and Bill Rice.