The USC Sumter baseball team has had two enemies this season.
The weather and themselves.
Mother Nature has not been kind this spring, as the Fire Ants have lost a total of 10 games because of poor conditions. The kicker is that eight of those games have been within Region X, meaning the Fire Ants have missed opportunities to climb up in the standings, where they currently sit in third.
"Mother Nature has been our worst enemy this spring," head coach Tim Medlin said after losing two games against USC Lancaster on Saturday to rain. "Anything is possible. You don't know until you play the games."
USC Sumter also hasn't done itself any favors offensively.
On paper, the Fire Ants have swung the bats well. They're hitting .294 as a team but have struggled to actually get runners home. Most of their losses have been by three or fewer runs, many of which have come in extra innings.
"We get men on, and we can't get them in. That's been the theme of the year," Medlin said. "We're still having a solid year, but it's not where we thought we could be."
Double-play balls have been a killer this year, even for the top two Fire Ant hitters.
"Capers Molinaroli and Brandon Osypczuk are leading the team's RBIs and home runs; they're also the guys hitting into the most double plays," Medlin said. "They always seem to do it when it's first and third with one out, and we have that chance to go ahead, and we hit into that 4-6-3 double play."
He was also quick to add, "They've done by far the best job for us."
Molinaroli is hitting .343 with a team-high 30 RBIs, while Osypczuk leads the team with six home runs and has driven in 23.
One solid offensive addition has been Jarian Pinckney. The freshman is second on the team in at bats and is hitting .327.
"He's a phenomenal athlete, puts balls in play," Medlin said. "It's not the prettiest swing. The kid's got tools. It's amazing how many hits he gets where he dumps a ball in. Phenomenal hand-eye coordination."
While the bats have been hot and cold, the arms have been great all season. Jeremiah Locklear is again the ace of the pitching staff. He's thrown 51 innings with a clean 2.65 ERA. Nick Petit is right behind him with a 2.70 ERA. Rounding out the top three in the rotation is Wyatt Dodgens. He's got a pristine 1.79 ERA and has split time between the rotation and bullpen because of the number of games lost because of weather.
"Those three guys are strike throwers; they're upper 80s, occasionally touch 90. Those guys can pitch," Medlin said. "They're three pitch guys, don't walk anybody, they give up less hits than innings pitched. You're going to have to beat them, you have to swing the bat."
Behind them, Braeden McDonald is taking hold of the No. 4 spot in the rotation, weather permitting.
By far the most used reliever has been Landon DeLavan. The Lakewood grad had a tough outing in the rain on Friday, allowing three runs in extra innings as the Fire Ants fell to USC Lancaster 7-4, but he's been electric this season. DeLavan is sporting a 2.49 ERA across 25 1/3 innings, striking out 30.
After going 1-1 against USC Lancaster on Friday, including a 6-4 win in the opening game that saw Molinaroli and Pinckney each collect two knocks, the Fire Ants have a big series this weekend. USC Sumter will travel to Spartanburg Methodist, which sits right behind them in Region X.
"Their pitching has been inconsistent at times, but offensively, they've been a very good club. They're always better in that ballpark," Medlin said of Spartanburg. "It's simple for us. Those three guys (Locklear, Petit and Dodgens) have got to pitch good. We're going to have to get good outings from them to have a chance."
After that, the only region games that stand between USC Sumter and the Region 10 Tournament are USC Salkehatchie, which has won just one region game.
Tournament play will have an extra wrinkle this season.
Typically, the regular-season champs earn one trip to the district tournament, while the other spot goes to the tournament champ. Last season, USC Sumter and Florence-Darlington earned trips to the district tournament. This year, Region 10 only has one spot in the district tournament, which means winning the tournament is the only path to keeping the Fire Ants' season alive.
"The bottom line is you still have to win that tournament. Someone is going to have to beat Florence-Darlington," Medlin said. "They're very good; they've played exceptionally well all year. They've been very consistent. Until somebody beats them, all bets are off."
Florence-Darlington sits atop the region with a perfect 15-0 record and 38-5 mark overall. Still, the way the Fire Ants have been pitching, Medlin thinks his team will have a chance.
"Ain't no doubt about it; we feel like we have a shot," Medlin said. "We proved that against Gaston, and we've proven that against Florence-Darlington. We've been in those games. We just have to figure out a way to score some runs."
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