The Pacers were knocked out of the Peach Belt Conference Tournament semifinals by Lander last season and didn’t receive an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional.
“We don’t talk about it anymore,” Thomas said. “I’m not going to deny the returning players don’t have a chip on their shoulder, because they do. But I don’t think it’s been our motivation. Our motivation is we need to be better than we were.”
Centering around a strong pitching staff, USC Aiken has confidence that it will be better. The Pacers return three of their top five starting pitchers, including all three weekend arms, from a rotation that recorded a 3.17 ERA last season. In support of their strong starting staff is a bullpen that had 167 strikeouts in 140⅓ innings.
“Potentially it’s maybe the best staff I’ve ever had here,” Thomas said. “The word potential can either leave you or stay with you forever. We have to get that word off us. We definitely are building our team around the pitching staff. It’s no secret, and we’ve told our players that.”
Derek Beasley, Wyatt Brown and Ryan Milewski will anchor the weekend rotation. The three combined on a 3.27 ERA last year.
Offensively, USC Aiken returns the core of its lineup, led by senior catcher Josh Miller and outfielder Will Tankersley. Among the six hitters who hit above .350 last season, the team is returning four to make up the middle of the order.
Among preseason accolades, Miller is tabbed as an All-American by Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, as well as a Peach Belt All-Conference pick.
The Pacers are ranked 10th in the preseason Collegiate Baseball Newspaper Division II Poll. Professional baseball scouts have taken notice, informing Thomas that the team has several draft prospects.
“The good thing about this team, with all the attention and the scouts out here every day, I think our guys have handled it well,” Thomas said. “We’re playing for USC Aiken, and whatever else happens will happen. I think our guys realize that, and they’ve had a good attitude about it.”
USC Aiken opens its season this weekend at home against Lincoln Memorial. Friday’s game begins at 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday’s games begin at 1.