NORFOLK, Va.-The North Carolina A&T baseball team lost to Delaware State, the No. 1 seed from the Northern Division, 4-2 on Saturday afternoon and were eliminated from the MEAC Baseball Championship Tournament by the Hornets for the second consecutive season.
The 2012 season came to an end at Marty L. Miller Field in a way so many of their games this season ended-with the Aggies on a losing end of a close game in which they had the go-ahead run at the plate.
"We fought to the end. It was a good fight until the end," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez, who ended his first season 20-36. "Our guys kept battling. Give credit to their starting pitcher [Ryan Haas]. He kept us off balance and we couldn't lock in on him. They did a good job. Give credit to them. It's a game of inches and it went their way."
The Aggies nearly erased a four-run deficit, but were missing the one key hit they needed to put them ahead and into the next round of the MEAC Tournament. After scoring 32 runs on 29 hits in 13 innings combined on Thursday and Friday, the Aggies amassed just six hits and two runs on Saturday, leaving six runners stranded. Haas, who won the 2012 MEAC Player of the Year Award, held the Aggies to just two unearned runs and four hits in seven innings.
"We had some opportunities and we just couldn't get the key hit. We fought until the end. Somebody had to lose, and eventually it has to come to an end, unfortunately. It's too bad it came down this way," Sanchez said. "I'm proud of our guys. They fought hard until the end. They left it out on the baseball field. Our guys played hard throughout the tournament and that's what we came here to do."
The Aggies halved the four-run deficit in the top of the seventh inning. Third baseman Luke Tendler started things off with a double down the right field line. Right fielder Dairio Little then reached on an error by DSU third baseman Cameron Cecil. With runners on first and second and no out, left fielder Andre McKoy walked to load the bases.
Representing the tying run, center fielder Bo McMillan hit into a fielder's choice, which put out McKoy at second but allowed Tendler to score to make it 4-1. Catcher Stefan Jordan followed with a sacrifice fly to right to bring home A&T's second run. Right fielder J.P. Frey's throwing error on the play, allowed McMillan to get into scoring position at second. But designated hitter Brandon Wilkerson grounded out to second to end the A&T rally.
Freshman Joe Mackey entered the game in relief for Ruben Torrellas to start the bottom of the seventh. Torrellas allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings. Mackey retired the Hornets in order to get the A&T offense back to the plate for another opportunity to chip away at the lead.
At first, it was going according to plan. With one out, second baseman Marquis Riley singled for his second hit of the contest. First baseman Kelvin Freeman came up to bat representing the tying run, but hit into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play.
In the Aggies ninth, DSU relief pitcher Derek Marshalsea put A&T down to its final out of the 2012 season by retiring the first two batters he faced. But he couldn't put the Aggies away as he walked McKoy. McMillan then singled to short keep A&T's hopes alive. But a Jordan line drive to Cecil at third ended the game and the season.
Delaware State scored all four of its runs in the fourth inning. The Hornets scored a pair of runs on a double down the left field line by first baseman Tony Gatto. Sanchez contested the hit call thinking it touched in foul territory. But the call stood and DSU had a 2-0 advantage. Shortstop Scott Davis added to the lead with a two-run RBI single to right to put the Hornets ahead 4-0.
Torrellas and Mackey kept the Hornets scoreless the rest of the way to keep the Aggies within striking distance.
"Ruben did a good job of keeping those guys off and giving us a chance to win. Mackey came out and shut them down as well to give us a chance to stay in the game. We had our shots and just couldn't get that key hit," Sanchez said.
The Aggies were 12-12 in MEAC play this season. They look to return a number of their players in 2013, losing just four seniors. But those seniors include the starting shortstop (Radford), second baseman (Riley), center fielder (Carvell Copeland) and the No. 1 starting pitcher in Estarlin Paulino. The Aggies will look to fill some of those key spots with talented recruits.
"We're only losing four seniors. I know we're losing the core of our middle infield and right up the middle with Carvell. We've got some guys coming in; we've got some arms coming in," said Sanchez. "I'm looking forward to next year because we do have a lot of guys returning. I had a good time. The guys were a good group, and played hard. It's a good group to build on."