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USC Sumter opens baseball season this weekend with pair of doubleheaders

By TIM LEIBLE
tim@theitem.com
Posted 1/31/20

The University of South Carolina Sumter baseball team is coming off of a solid season in 2019. The team finished with a record of 31-22 and made it to the Region X championship game before falling to Spartanburg Methodist College.

The Fire Ants …

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USC Sumter opens baseball season this weekend with pair of doubleheaders

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The University of South Carolina Sumter baseball team is coming off of a solid season in 2019. The team finished with a record of 31-22 and made it to the Region X championship game before falling to Spartanburg Methodist College.

The Fire Ants kick off their season this weekend with a doubleheaders against Southeastern Community College-Whiteville on Saturday and Sunday at Riley Park. The twinbills will begin at noon each day.

USC Sumter has a ton of new faces and is looking forward to competing for another region title.

As is the case with junior college baseball, the Fire Ants have a lot of turnover this year, and head coach Tim Medlin is going to need contributions from several freshmen. One of the players Medlin plans to lean on is freshman Kameron Heath. Heath is a 2-way player out of Liberty, North Carolina, who will play in the outfield and be a part of the weekend rotation.

"He's a hard throwing lefty with a good breaking ball and very athletic, runs well," Medlin said of Heath. "He's going to be a guy that's gonna make a big impact."

Other noteworthy freshmen include Rodney Griffin, who will factor into the outfield and first base, shortstop Cody Cox, catcher Brady White, pitchers Matthew Dooley and Jackson Herring and third baseman Price Alexander out of Dutch Fork High School in Irmo.

Another newcomer for Sumter is sophomore Brendan Mullins, a pitcher from Penn State. After seeing limited action as a freshman with the Nittany Lions, he comes to the Fire Ants looking to make an instant impact.

"(Mullins) is a hard thrower, good breaking ball," said Medlin. "He really looked good on Saturday in our scrimmage against Francis Marion. Had a good outing, a couple of shutout innings, and he's got chance to really make an impact for us."

While the Fire Ants boast a ton of new players, Medlin still has a few veterans on which he can lean.

On the pitching side, USC Sumter will be led by Austin Pearce. Pearce had an up-and-down freshman year with a 5.76 earned run average in a team high 54 1/3 innings pitched. Medlin has seen a huge jump in his sophomore ace and is looking forward to seeing what he does once the season kicks off.

"Austin Pearce is the guy that really made the jump," Medlin said. "Austin Pearce was absolutely dominant in the game on Saturday over at Francis Marion. Two innings, (throwing) upper 80s (miles per hour), plus breaking ball, plus changeup. He really showed tremendous command, pitched on both sides of the plate.

"He's going to have to be the bell cow," continued Medlin. "He's gotta go out there and pitch Game 1 for us on the weekend, and he's a guy that has really made some big strides and really has a chance to do some things for us. We're excited about him, and we think the sky's the limit for him. He's been up to 98 and has really developed a feel for what he's doing out there."

Offensively, the Fire Ants have a pair of key returners in outfielder Payton Young and catcher Lee Metts. Metts hit .306 last year while splitting duties behind the plate, driving in 19 runs on the season. Young showed some power potential late in the season, clubbing six home runs on the year and driving in 25 runs, while walking a team high 37 times. Medlin sees these two players, alongside Heath and Griffin at the top of the lineup, as the keys to unlocking this offense.

"Let's put it this way, Payton Young, Kameron Heath, Rodney Griffin and Lee Metts, those guys have got to hit at the top of our order because that's going to take the pressure off the rest of those guys," said Medlin. "Those four guys are capable of doing big things.

"Those guys are the ones who do it first and if those guys don't hit, we're going to struggle, but those guys have all shown significant periods where they can each carry a ball club so, so we're pretty excited about them. We really are."

Medlin, who is entering his seventh season with the Fire Ants, continues to have the same expectations, to compete in Region X and try to make a push for the playoffs.

"It's the same way every year around here. We expect to go out and compete and be somewhere near the top of this region," said Medlin. "It's fascinating; you're gonna do it sometimes in different fashions, but you know we still expect to go out and compete for it. We're excited about the group; we're very athletic, we can run and we've got enough pitching on the front end to make a push.

"We've got a tough schedule, but I believe this group has a chance to be very good."