GREENSBORO—The North Carolina A&T baseball team closed out the regular season with another tough loss, seeing a ninth-inning lead slip away for the second straight game as they fell 7-5 to Savannah State on Friday night.
The No. 4-seeded Aggies will take on the No. 1 seeded Delaware State on Wednesday at 4 p.m. at the Marty L. Miller Field on the campus of Norfolk State for the opening round of the 2013 MEAC Tournament. The Aggies are in the hunt for their fourth title in program history, and first since 2005.
Friday marked the sixth time the Aggies (15-36, 8-16) have lost to the Tigers (29-21,17-7) this season. Despite out-hitting the Tigers in Friday’s contest, A&T couldn’t protect their late 5-4 lead and were unable to capitalize on bringing the tying run to the plate in the ninth.
“Well, another close game with these guys. We haven’t been able to squeak one out. We would have liked to gone in with a little momentum going into the conference tournament, but we didn’t,” said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. “It’s tough to lose your last game. We’ve got to regroup, get ourselves back together, have a couple of good practice days and get ready to go compete in the conference tournament.”
SSU got runners on the corners with no out to start the ninth. A&T brought on right-hander Tim Jones to replace junior Tyler Boone. He walked first baseman Peter Poole to load the bases for designated hitter Mendez Elder. Elder hit it to short, and junior Luke Tendler bobbled the ball. The Tigers tied the game on the play. With the bases loaded and no out, third baseman Joseph McCrary singled through the right side to put SSU ahead, 6-5. Sanchez then called on sophomore Shane Carter to relieve Jones. Carter hit left fielder Parker Nix, which allowed the seventh SSU run to score. Carter then got right fielder David Richards to pop out and Lee Moore to hit into an inning-ending double play to get out of the jam.
SSU ace Kyle McGowin came in to pitch the ninth and collect his second save on the year. He struck out catcher Darrin Meaders and third baseman Mark Nales before issuing a walk to second baseman James Harris. Right fielder Brandon Wilkerson, representing the tying run, then hit a bloop single, which dropped between McCrary and shortstop Todd Hagen. Harris went dashing around the bases, and tried to reach third. He was thrown out at third to end the game.
“We’ve had some chances to win two tight ballgames against a couple of good teams, and we haven’t been able to pull it out. Maybe the experience of these two games will help us out in the tournament. They’ve seen it, they’ve dealt with it and they’ve got to be better in those situations,” Sanchez said.
The Aggies will look to build on some of Friday’s strong hitting performances. Wilkerson finished 4-for-5 with a triple and an RBI. Senior Kelvin Freeman had a two-run home run in the contest, and shortstop Luke Tendler had a pair of RBI in the contest. He finished 0-for-2 to snap his hitting streak at nine games.
Freeman launched the first pitch he saw from SSU senior Jack May over the left field wall to put A&T in front, 2-0, in the first inning.
Richards added a solo blast, his second homer of the season, in the second to pull the Tigers within a run. The Tigers tied it up in the third inning. Hagen singled up the middle to start the inning. Brent Moore then walked Poole. Elder hit a sac bunt to advance both runners into scoring position. While McCrary was batting, the Aggies tried to pickoff the runner at second. The throw was not in time and went a little wide. Hagen scored from third on the play, as the throw from Tendler wasn’t in time to get him at the plate. McCrary grounded out to Moore, and Poole moved to third base. Moore got Nix to strike out swinging, but Meaders committed a passed ball. Nix took first base, and Poole scored to but Savannah State ahead, 3-2.
The Aggies responded by tying the game in their half of the third. A sac fly to center by Tendler scored Wilkerson, who tripled.
A&T got back-to-back one-out singles from Meaders and Nales in the seventh inning. Harris hit a bunt single to load the bases. Wilkerson singled through the left side to break the tie. Tendler hit a sac fly to right to put A&T ahead, 5-3.
The Tigers made it 5-4 in the eighth inning. With one one and two out, Richards singled down the right field line to bring home a run. Moore then hit a towering single that fell down in shallow right field to put runners on the corners. With two on and two out, catcher Chris Arnold grounded out to short to end the threat.
Also in Friday’s game, Sanchez allowed all three of his primary starters—Moore, Josh Ganus and Boone—get some work in to prepare for the MEAC Tournament. Moore allowed three runs in 3.0 innings and had three strikeouts. Ganus tossed 3.0 shutout, hitless frames. Boone allowed three runs on three hits and two walks in 2.0 frames.
“We didn’t want to give them a whole 10 days off before you go pitch in the few next games,” Sanchez said.
The Aggies will look to start off the tournament with a win on Wednesday, with Moore slated to start.
“We are going to the conference tournament and we’ve got just as good a chance as anybody else. We’ve got Del State, the No. 1 team from the North, so it isn’t going to be an easy one. But it doesn’t matter who you play, you still have to go out and win,” Sanchez said.