Bearcats outlast Aiken 12-8 in second round of regionals

Lander's Thomas Berry rounds third en route to a score Friday evening against USC Aiken in the second round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Tournament. (Photo by Bob Stoner)
Lander's Thomas Berry rounds third en route to a score Friday evening against USC Aiken in the second round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Tournament. (Photo by Bob Stoner)

GREENWOOD, S.C. – Colby Painter drove in four runs as the No. 1 seed and nationally second-ranked Lander Bearcats scored four runs in the top of the 10th inning to eliminate No. 4 seed USC Aiken 12-8 Friday in a wild second round game in the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Tournament hosted by Lander University at Dolny Stadium. The Pacers rallied from an 8-2 deficit, forcing extra innings.

Lander improved to 49-6 on the season, including a 25-2 home record. The Bearcats have won 19 straight and will play Saturday at noon against the winner of Friday night's Georgia College versus Columbus State game.

Aiken went 0-2 in the tournament and finished its season 36-17.

Patrick Grady started the winning rally when he was hit by a pitch for the 17th time this season. Grady stopped at second when Connor Lewis's slow roller to the right side went into the hole for a single. The runners moved up on a balk, and Grady scored the go-ahead run when Thomas Berry's pop fly to short left fell between Aiken defenders for an RBI single.

Weston Lawing followed with an RBI double, Graham Ramos added a sacrifice fly and Painter hit an RBI single to plate Lander's fourth run of the inning.

Lander reliever Brandon White (4-2) closed out the victory with a scoreless bottom of the 10th. White tossed three scoreless innings.

James Lynch (0-1) took the loss, being charged with the four runs in the 10th.

"We stayed the course and didn't give up a huge inning," Lander head coach Kermit Smith said. "The four-inning one we gave up was not great, but we had a SIX-run inning. When it comes to big innings, I guess, we won the big-inning war, so to speak."

White, the team's closer, pitching three innings was a key to the victory.

"This is why you take care of him all year," Smith said of White's arm. "It's not that you can overuse him; it's so you can use him. He came in here to help us win a national title. And, he will always say yes when I ask him that question if he can go."

The Bearcats were the visitors in Friday's game, sitting in the Dolny Stadium road team's dugout for the first time this season.

Lander took a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning, but it could have been much worse for Aiken. Lawing reached on a throwing error by the third baseman, Ramos reached on an error by the second baseman, and Painter was hit by the first pitch he saw to load the bases with nobody out.

Lawing scored on Chris Hyatt's sacrifice fly to right center. Thomas Bess hit a fly ball to deep right that Ramos considered tagging up and going to third on. But Ramos stayed close to second, yet Pacers right fielder Tyler Moore gunned a throw to second to double Ramos off and end the inning.

The Bearcats missed another big scoring opportunity in the third when Erik Lunde walked and moved to third on Lewis's one-out double to the right-field corner. Berry popped out to second, Lawing was intentionally walked, and Aiken third baseman TJ Costen fielded Ramos's ground ball and stepped on third for a force and the final out of the inning.

Lander increased its lead to 2-0 in the fourth when Bess smashed a ball into the right field corner for a double. He raced to third when the right fielder bobbled the ball and scored as the second baseman's relay throw got past third.

Aiken scored twice in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game. Sean Miller and Moore singled, and Ty Barkell was hit by a pitch to load the bases with nobody out. Ryan Metzler hit a sacrifice fly to right and Costen reached on a fielder's choice, beating out a potential double play ball to plate the tying run.

The Bearcats broke through against Aiken starting pitcher Matt Hissong in the top of the fifth. Hissong was the last pitcher to beat Lander, pitching a four-hitter in a 6-1 victory over the Bearcats on April 5 at Aiken.

Berry hit a one-out single and scored on Lawing's double to left center. Lawing stopped at third on a single by Ramos, and Painter followed with a three-run homer over the right-field fence to give Lander a 6-2 lead. It was Painter's ninth home run of the season and chased Hissong from the game. It was Painter's second career home run in NCAA Tournament play, including a game-winning blast at Mount Olive in 2012.

Ben Black replaced Hissong and immediately got in trouble. Hyatt walked, Bess singled and Lunde was walked intentionally to load the bases. After Black fanned Grady for the second out of the inning, two runs scored on a bizarre play off the bat of Lewis. The second baseman ranging to his right bobbled Lewis's ground ball right into the hands of the shortstop, who was standing near second for a potential force out. But the shortstop dropped the ball, with Hyatt and Bess both scoring to make it 8-2.

In the bottom of the fifth, Lander turned its third double play of the game starting with shortstop Lunde fielding a tricky short hop in the hole.

The Pacers got back in the game with four runs in the bottom of the sixth. Moore drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a single by Barkell, and scored on Metzler's single up the middle. Costen bunted the runners to second and third, and both runners scored on Charles Padilla's double to left center. Grayson Smith's single to left scored Padilla, pulling Aiken within 8-6.

With one out, Lander starting pitcher Taylor Alvarez retired his last batter on a foul pop up to third base before being replaced by Kyle Tate. The Bearcats reliever struck Kody Belcher out looking when he stepped out of the box without receiving a time out call, ending the inning.

Aiken reliever Caleb Smith retired Lander in order in the top of the seventh, the first 1-2-3 inning since the bottom of the first.

The Pacers drew closer in the bottom of the seventh, missing an opportunity to tie or take the lead. Moore hit a one-out single, Barkell was hit by a pitch, and they pulled off a double steal. Moore scored on Metzler's sacrifice fly to right, pulling Aiken within 8-7. Tate walked Costen and Padilla to load the bases with two outs. Johnny Walker replaced Tate and fell behind Smith 3-1, threw strike two down the middle, then caught Smith looking on the outside corner to end the threat and keep the Bearcats in front.

Lander attempted to expand its lead in the top of the eighth when Berry drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on Lawing's sacrifice bunt. But Caleb Smith struck Ramos out swinging and caught Painter looking to end the inning.

Aiken tied it in the bottom of the eighth off White. Dylan Durham reached on an error, moved to second on Belcher's sacrifice bunt and scored on Moore's two-out single to left, making it 8-all.

Pacers reliever Lynch struck out the side in the top of the ninth, and Aiken wasted Barkell's leadoff single in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.

Alvarez allowed six runs on eight hits with three walks and two strikeouts in 5.2 innings.

Hissong allowed six runs, four earned, on seven hits in 4.1 innings. He walked two and struck out one.

Leading hitters for Lander include Painter, 2-for-4 with a homer and four RBI; Lawing, 2-for-3 with three runs and two RBI; Berry, 2-for-5 with the go-ahead RBI; and Lewis and Bess who were each 2-for-6.

Leading hitters for the Pacers were Moore, 3-for-4 with three runs scored; and Barkell, 2-for-3.

Aiken committed eight errors in the game, breaking the record of seven the Pacers made in an 8-4 win over Southern Indiana March 5, 2002.