DURHAM, N.C. – North Carolina A&T put the go-ahead run on in the ninth inning in an effort to sweep arch-rival N.C. Central Sunday, but that attempt would ultimately fail.
The Aggies left the runner stranded as the Eagles came away with a 4-3 win at Durham Athletic Park to salvage one game out of the three-game series. N.C. A&T dropped to 9-6 overall and 2-1 during the young Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference season.
Junior Dustin Baber led the Aggies by going 2-for-4. Baber was 6-for-11 for the series and posted three RBI. Junior Zach McLean was 2-for-3 on Sunday with two RBI while senior A.J. added two hits and a run scored.
N.C. A&T went into the ninth inning trailing 4-2. McLean quickly changed that by soaring relief pitcher Austin Vernon’s 3-1 pitch over the left-center field fence to cut the Eagles lead to one. Vernon recovered by striking out junior Shane Faulk and junior pinch-hitter Jarrett Norman for the first two outs of the inning.
But Baber kept the Aggies going with a single through the left side on the first pitch he saw from Vernon. Vernon would strike out junior Ryne Stanley to end the game and earn his third save of the season. Vernon saved the game for NCCU starter Ryan Miller (2-1) who went eight innings giving up two runs, one earned and striking out five.
Despite Miller’s efforts, the Aggies still held an early lead and junior Aggies right-hand starter Michael Johnson was doing what he normally does – keep runs off the scoreboard. Johnson pitched six scoreless innings for the Aggies while giving up six hits, striking out three and walking two.
Johnson has not surrendered a run in his last 20 innings pitched. The Aggies gave him some assistance starting in the third as Baber opened the inning with a solo shot to right center. N.C. A&T put more runs on the board for Johnson in the fourth.
Hunt made his way around the base paths by earning an infield single, moving to second on a throwing error and jogging to third when Miller was called for a balk. McLean did his part with a flyball to left center that resulted in an RBI sacrifice to score Hunt for the 2-0 Aggies advantage.
But the Eagles did become one of the few offenses this season that has been able to be successful against the Aggies bullpen. After back-to-back one-out singles in the NCCU seventh put runners on first and third for the Eagles, Carter Williams’ RBI sac fly scored the Eagles first run. After Aggies freshman reliever Gianni Smith (RHP) walked Vinny Bailey, the Aggies turned to senior RHP Leon Davidson.
Caleb Coyle greeted him with a three-run homer to right center to give the Eagles a 4-2 lead. Davidson retired the next two batters after the damage was done. Smith (1-2) took the loss. Myles Coston was 3-for-3 for the Eagles (6-10, 1-2 MEAC).
The Aggies return to non-conference action 4 p.m., Wednesday, when they travel to High Point to face High Point University.