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No. 9 USC Aiken sweeps No. 10 Lander, 6-5 and 14-7

Lander's Jeff May catches a foul ball in Saturday's first game against USC Aiken. (Photo by Bob Stoner)
Lander's Jeff May catches a foul ball in Saturday's first game against USC Aiken. (Photo by Bob Stoner)

GREENWOOD – USC Aiken's Bill Gerstenslager hit a tie-breaking homer in the top of the ninth inning of Game 1, propelling the No. 9 Pacers to a Peach Belt Conference double-header sweep over No. 10 Lander Saturday afternoon at Dolny Stadium. USC Aiken won the opener 6-5 and scored 10 runs in the third inning of Game 2 en route to a 14-7 victory.

The Pacers swept the three-game series, improving to 34-8 overall and 19-5 in the PBC, taking a stranglehold of first place in the league standings. USC Aiken won the series opener 8-6 in 10 innings on Friday.

The Bearcats fell to 29-12 and 18-9 in the Peach Belt.

The opener was tied at 5-all going into the top of the ninth and Lander reliever Kyle Tate retired the first two batters. But Gerstenslager crushed a home run to right, his fifth of the season, giving the Pacers a 6-5 lead.

USC Aiken reliever Taylor Grover (4-0) closed out the victory in the bottom of the ninth, allowing only a two-out infield single to Colby Painter before striking out the final batter. Tate (1-2) took the loss.

Aiken took a 3-0 lead in the first inning of Game 1 on RBI singles by Gerstenslager and Ben Donath, and Ty Barkell's run-scoring ground out.

Lander pulled within 3-1 in the fourth when Ian Harvey singled to left, moved to third on Jeff May's double, and scored on Austin Dunn's sacrifice fly to deep left.

Graham Ramos pulled the Bearcats closer in the fifth. After making a great back-handed stop in the hole to end the top of the inning, he led off the bottom of the fifth with a blast well over the left-field fence. It was his fifth homer of the season.

But Aiken got its three-run lead back with two runs in the top of the sixth. Ryan Metzler singled, moved to second on John Fidanza's ground out, and scored on Sean Miller's single to center. Miller advanced to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Josh Miller's single.

Lander responded with two runs of its own in the bottom of the sixth when Dunn and Ramos walked, and Erik Lunde and Patrick Grady each hit two-out RBI singles.

The Bearcats made a big defensive stand in the seventh after Barkell hit a one-out single off Lander starter Chess Malone, and Donath drew a walk from reliever Tate. The runners moved up on a wild pitch, leaving them on second and third with just one out. But as Metzler grounded out to shortstop, Barkell took off for home. Bearcats first baseman Connor Lewis gunned Barkell down at the plate, keeping the score 5-4.

Lander took advantage of that momentum, tying it in the bottom of the eighth when Ramos hit a leadoff triple off the wall in right, and scored on Lunde's sacrifice fly to right, tying the game at 5-all. But the lead was short-lived as Gerstenslager untied it in the next inning.

Leading hitters in Game 1 were Josh Miller with three hits and Gerstenslager and Sean Miller with two hits apiece for the Pacers, and Ramos, Lunde and May with two hits apiece for Lander. Ramos had a triple, homer and three runs scored.

Aiken took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first of Game 2 on Barkell's two-run triple to right center.

The Pacers blew the game open with 10 runs on nine hits in the top of the third. Metzler smacked a two-run single to chase Lander starting pitcher Cam Hokanson, Tyler Moore drilled a run-scoring double on Bearcats reliever Jeremy Jansen's first pitch, Sean Miller had an infield RBI single, Josh Miller hit a two-run single, Bryce Baur added a run-scoring single, Barkell had an RBI single, JJ Loker reached on a fielder's choice to drive in one run, and Metzler's second hit of the inning drove in a run.

Lander scored its first run of Game 2 in the fourth inning when Harvey singled, pinch runner Tyler Wilson moved to third on May's single, and Wilson scored on Aaron Poole's ground out.

Aiken made it 13-1 in the top of the fifth when Barkell singled, advanced to second when Loker walked, and scored when Moore was credited with an infield single that led to a throwing error.

The Bearcats closed within 13-4 in the bottom of the fifth. Painter singled, advanced to third on Chris Hyatt's single and scored on Weston Lawing's single. May hit a sacrifice fly and Lawing scored on an error.

Lander added a run in the eighth when May doubled to right center and scored on Poole's double to left.

Aiken added a run in the ninth when Barkell reached on his fifth hit of the game and scored on Moore's bases-loaded walk, making it 14-5.

The Bearcats scored twice in the bottom of the ninth. Adam Davey and Hyatt walked, Lawing singled, Wilson hit a sacrifice fly, and May hit an RBI ground out.

USC Aiken starting pitcher Ryan Milewski (4-3) was the winning pitcher while Hokanson (0-2) took the loss. Zach Hayden, Tyler Stephan and Jake Padgett finished up the game in relief for the Pacers, while Bryce Clifton and John Eric Haynes closed out the game for Lander.

Leading hitters in Game 2 for the Pacers were Barkell who was 5-for-6 with three runs scored and three RBI, Moore with three hits, and Josh Miller and Sean Miller with two hits apiece.

May was Lander's leading hitter in Game 2, going 3-for-3. Poole was 2-for-4 with two RBI, and Lawing went 2-for-5.