SAVANNAH, Ga.-North Carolina A&T used a combination of strong pitching, timely hitting and solid defense to defeat Savannah State 7-3 and 5-2 in a Sunday baseball doubleheader played at Tiger Stadium. The Aggies took two out of three from the Tigers to capture their first MEAC series win.
The Aggies (9-18, 4-5) and the Tigers (11-17, 5-4) began playing at 11 a.m., on Sunday, and spent the next five hours in close competition.
"It was good, obviously for us conference-wise," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. "After yesterday, we needed to come out strong and win this series. Our backs were against the wall and we were sitting at the bottom of the conference. We've got to battle, we've got no choice. We've got to battle hard and play hard, and that's what we did."
The Aggies had to battle ties in both games, before taking a late lead in each contest. Sanchez credited the pair of victories with an all-around strong performance from all facets of the game. Sanchez is looking for the Aggies to continue that strong, multi-dimensional attack in future games.
"Our pitching kept us in the game, we got some timely hitting and our defense was making the plays," he said.
In Game 1, the Tigers overcame a 3-1 deficit to tie the game at 3 in the fourth. But A&T broke the tie and took a 4-3 lead in the top of the fifth. Right fielder Dairio Little singled to lead off the inning and took second on a single by Kelvin Freeman. An RBI single to right by Luke Tendler brought home Little. The Aggies took control of the game two innings later.
In the seventh inning, an RBI double down the left field line by Freeman scored Marquis Riley to give the Aggies a 5-3 lead. Tendler then singled to left field, and the ball went through the legs of the left fielder Justin Brown and rolled back toward the wall. Freeman scored from second and Tendler raced around to score on the fielding error to take a four-run lead.
A&T freshman reliever Jamal Clark held the Tigers scoreless in 3.1 innings for his first save, while Aggie starter Brent Moore (3-2) picked up his second straight MEAC win, allowing three runs (two earned) on five hits in 5.2 frames.
In Game 2, the Aggies put the pressure on the Tigers and took the lead in the top of the fourth. McMillan walked to start the inning. He moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by catcher Eric Chiz. SSU starter Tommy Freeman hit Wilkerson and Michael Radford to load the bases. While left fielder McKoy was batting, Radford made a break toward second. Freeman threw the ball to first baseman Matthew Oglesby. McMillan left third and stole home to tie the game at 1-1. Wilkerson stole third, and Radford remained safe at first as the Tigers defense failed to make an out. McKoy hit a sacrifice fly, which brought home Wilkerson to make it a 2-1 contest.
With the lead, A&T southpaw Estarlin Paulino kept dealing. After giving up the double in the first inning, Paulino retired the next 10 SSU batters, including five strikeouts. But the Tigers were still able to tie the game at 2 on an RBI single by Oglesby.
But the tie didn't last long as the Aggies scored in the fifth. With two singles to start the inning, Riley scored as Tendler grounded out to second. A single by McMillan allowed Freeman to score to make it 4-2. The Aggies pulled ahead by three in the sixth inning on an RBI single by Little.
Paulino (3-3) picked up the win after retiring the last four batters of the game. He allowed two runs on four hits with five strikeouts in 7.0 innings. The Aggies are now 20-6 against the Tigers since 2004.
"It was a good series, a good competitive team. We battled back and forth, and finally kind of took control late. That was a good game," Sanchez said.
Freeman had a combined five hits in both games, while Luke Tendler went 3-for-4 with two runs scored in Game 1.
The Aggies face UNC Greensboro 6 p.m., Tuesday at UNCG. The Aggies will stay close to home on Wednesday when they face High Point University in High Point at 6 p.m.