GREENSBORO – Savannah State delivered North Carolina A&T’s postseason baseball hopes a significant blow Sunday afternoon by scoring eight unanswered runs in a come-from-behind 13-11 triumph at War Memorial Stadium. The win gave the Tigers the three-game series sweep.
The Aggies (15-29, 8-13 MEAC) remain in fifth place, a game and a half behind Savannah State (18-26, 9-11 MEAC) for the fourth and final MEAC tournament berth out of the southern division. The Aggies have three more cracks at making the postseason. But they must win this weekend’s three-game series at Florida A&M. It would probably even benefit A&T to win all three.
“You’ve got to go out and win. Bottom line,” said A&T Joel Sanchez when asked what the message to his team will be next week. “They’re all must wins at this point. Today was a must win and it didn’t happen. But we’re still mathematically alive, so there’s nothing left for us to do but go out and win.”
Offensively on Sunday, the Aggies played like a team in desperate need of a win. Junior catcher Lester Salcedo went 3-for-5 with three RBI. Junior outfielder Brandon Wilkerson was 2-for-5 with two RBI, freshman Kyle Clary went 2-for-5 and senior Luke Tendler scored three times. But for the fourth time in five games, A&T pitching was hit hard. The Tigers registered 42 hits in the three-game set.
“Our pitchers weren’t very sharp,” said Sanchez about the series. “It started with (Charles) Cantrell just not being himself (on Saturday). It was uncharacteristic outing for him, hitting the first three guys he faced. I think that game took the wind out of us a little bit. But we had a chance in the second game, and we put the runs up today. We just couldn’t keep them off the board.”
Salcedo energized the Aggies and their fans by blasting a bases-clearing, three-run RBI double to left-center field to give the Aggies an 8-5 lead. A&T added another run in the fifth as Wilkerson and Clary led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Wilkerson moved to third on Clary’s single, setting up Bo McMillan’s RBI single through the right side that gave A&T a 9-5 advantage.
Unfortunately, that lead evaporated quickly. The Tigers scored their first two runs of the sixth inning on a throwing error by Salcedo and a wild pitch from A&T starter Mitchell McQueen (RHP). Tre Sikes then tied the game at 9 with a towering two-run homer that elevated over the trees behind the left-field fence. The Tigers added four more runs in the eighth thanks in part to a pinch-hit two-run RBI double by Lee Moore. Moore would later score on a Kevin Herlihy RBI single to give SSU a 13-9 lead.
A&T did fight back with some help from the Tigers in its eighth. Tendler reached on an error and Cameron Jergens walked. Salcedo then hit a slow groundball to first that went under Sikes’ glove at first base, scoring Tendler from second and advancing Jergens to third. Wilkerson’s groundball out scored Jergens to pull the Aggies to within two runs at 13-11.
The tying run came to the plate for the Aggies in the ninth after senior Stefan Jordan doubled to right center. After the Jordan double, the Tigers moved left-hander Herlihy from first base to the pitcher’s mound. Herlihy earned his second save of the weekend by getting Dylan Hipp and Tendler to fly out.
Eric Hicks (4-4) got the win in relief. Senior Justin Godette (0-5) suffered the loss. Sikes and Herlihy led the Tigers with two hits apiece.
Before the game the Aggies celebrated Senior Day. They honored six seniors in RHP Tyler Boone, RHP Godette, first baseman Jergens, catcher Jordan, utility player James Harris and shortstop Tendler.
The Aggies play at Campbell (6 p.m.) on Wednesday before traveling to Tallahassee, Fla., to face the Florida A&M Rattlers in a 1 p.m., Saturday doubleheader and 1 p.m., Sunday finale.
“They’re not a team that overmatches us,” said Sanchez about the Rattlers. “I know they swept us at home, but it is a very beatable team. We’ve just got to go out and beat them. They’re not going to give it to us.”