USC Aiken remains alive with two wins

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AIKEN --- It was no ordinary Saturday for the USC Aiken baseball team. The scoreboard at Roberto Hernandez Stadium flashed the words "Showdown Saturday" in bold lettering.

Public address announcer Joe Kucharski introduced the day as "Separation Saturday."

But more than showdowns and separation, the Pacers survived a long day in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Tournament.

USC Aiken won two elimination games to advance to the regional championship, to be played today against Belmont Abbey. The Pacers knocked off Catawba 7-2 in an afternoon game delayed 48 minutes because of lightning, then took a 7-2 victory over Francis Marion to reach the final.

The Pacers are two victories away from a trip the NCAA Division II World Series. They'll face winners' bracket champion Belmont Abbey at Roberto Hernandez Stadium at 11 a.m. with two Pacer wins necessary to advance.

A day after starter Steven Spire threw a compete-game gem to keep the Pacers' season alive, USC Aiken got two more strong pitching performances from its starters.

Clayton Knight threw a complete game of his own in the win over Cawtaba. Coming off a recent shoulder injury sufhe fered during a postgame, on-field celebration, the senior allowed one earned run and struck out 10 batters over nine innings.

In the second game, Pacers starter Justin Fry also dominated opposing batters as he pitched into the ninth inning in a three-hit victory. Fry, who threw 178 pitches in the win, struck out seven batters.

"Two young men went out there and pitched their hearts out," USC Aiken coach Kenny Thomas said. "They said Clayton would be out six weeks, and it was three weeks today when he separated his shoulder. ... Justin Fry hadn't pitched a lot lately, and for him to go 8q was unbelievable. He was exhausted out there in the ninth."

Neil Brown came in with one out in the ninth and walked the bases loaded before walking a run in. The second reliever of the night, Jeremy Smith, got the job done.

USC Aiken catcher John Sherrer led his team's offensive charge. He successfully bunted three times in Game 1, then added a two-run homer in the eighth inning of Game 2 to seal that win.

Sherrer finished the two games 3-for-4 with four RBI.

Reach Billy Byler at (706) 823-3216 or billy.byler@augustachronicle.com.


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