NORFOLK, Va.—It took 4 hours and 43 minutes, but the North Carolina A&T baseball team opened up the 2013 MEAC Tournament with a 16-11 victory in 13 innings over No. 1 seed Delaware State at Marty L. Miller Field on Wednesday.
“We came to play, that’s for sure. Our bats woke up, finally. Hopefully we’re getting hot at the right time,” said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. “It was a good win, a good way to start the tournament. It’s always a huge plus to be 1-0 instead of 0-1. It’s big. Del is a tough team. We knew we’d have our work cut out and our guys showed up.”
The Aggies (16-36) rallied to take a two-run lead in the ninth, but the Hornets (33-14) came back to tie up the game on pair of hits and a key A&T error. The Aggies rallied again to score five runs on six hits in the top of the 13th to win the game, their longest contest in terms of both time and innings of the season, and move into the winners bracket.
The Aggies will take on the Bethune-Cookman vs. Coppin State winner at 4 p.m., on Thursday.
Junior right-hander Tyler Boone struck out six and allowed two unearned runs on four hits in 8.0 innings of work to pick up the victory. But it was MEAC Player of the Year senior Kelvin Freeman’s sacrifice fly in the 13th that gave A&T the lead for good. First-team All-MEAC junior shortstop Luke Tendler led the team with four hits and four runs scored. Brandon Wilkerson, Cameron Jergens, Dairio Little and Mark Nales had three RBI apiece.
“We had a quite a few guys get key hits who have not been doing that lately. Luke and Kelvin still swung the bat, and we had some guys pick it up around them. I think that’s what it’s going to take for us to win this thing. We do have a shot,” Sanchez added.
Heading into the top of the ninth behind 9-7, the Aggie offense stirred. Tendler was hit by a pitch to start the rally. Freeman doubled down the left field line and Wilkerson walked to load the bags. Jergens capitalized with a two-run single to right field to tie the game. Little then slammed a two-run double to left-center field to give the Aggies an 11-9 lead.
But Delaware State wouldn’t go away. With one out, second baseman Cameron Onderko hit into what could have been a game-ending 6-4-3 double play. The throw from A&T second baseman Jeovanny Tolentino went wide, and Onderko was safe at first on the fielder’s choice. Third baseman Cameron Cecil then grounded to Tolentino, but Freeman dropped the throw to first to put runners at first and second. Shortstop JP Frey drove in both runners with a double to right-center field to tie the contest.
After three scoreless extra innings, the Aggies finally broke through in the 13th frame. A&T collected singles from Tolentino and Tendler to get runners on the corners with no out. Freeman hit a sacrifice fly to left to put A&T ahead, 12-11. Tendler stole third and scored on a single by sophomore Dylan Hipp. Little hit an RBI single to add another insurance run for the Aggies. Nales doubled to left-center field to make it a 15-11 contest. Catcher Stefan Jordan kept the hit parade going with a single to left, which scored the 16th A&T run.
Boone retired the Hornets in order in the 13th to secure the victory for the Aggies.
“Tyler Boone—what more could you ask for, geez?” Sanchez said. “I think if we swing the bat like that, we’ll be okay. That’s huge win for us, coming against a No. 1 seed, and I think we’re just as good as anybody here.”