DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Senior starting pitcher Tim Luth hung in there after a tough start. Senior Dawnoven Smith hit a humungous two-run homer in the seventh.
Junior Dustin Baber then completed the come-from-behind effort with a game-winning RBI in the eighth inning as the North Carolina A&T baseball team defeated Savannah State 5-4 in their first-round game of the 2019 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Baseball Championship Tournament at Jackie Robinson Park.
The win advances the Aggies (29-22) to the semifinals where they will play noon Friday at Jackie Robinson Park.
“We didn't get off to a good start and then we had a couple of tough plays that we turned into tougher plays,” said N.C. A&T coach Ben Hall. “All of sudden, early in the game, you're down 3-0. You're not expecting that. But it's tournament baseball and if you're not tuned in from the beginning, you're going to fall behind like that.
This time of the year when that happens you must respond. We were taking good at-bats, we just had to stick with it. We ended up getting some big hits in the end there."
N.C. A&T, the defending MEAC champion and the two-time MEAC Southern Division champions, got off to about as bad a start as a defending champ can. The Aggies surrendered three runs and committed two errors to fall behind 3-0 in the first inning. Luth threw 21 first-inning pitches. He was superb from there.
Between the second inning and the sixth, Luth retired 12 straight batters. The string was broken when Garrett Bogart reached on an error in the sixth inning. Luth’s return to dominant pitcher allowed the Aggies offense to rally.
Senior Jarrett Norman got the Aggies on the board with an RBI single in the fourth. Senior Brandon Melendez then hit into a force play that allowed junior Ryne Stanley to score to cut the Tigers lead to 3-2.
SSU finally got Luth off the mound in the seventh after pitching 6.1 innings. With runners on second and third, the Aggies turned to right-hand reliever Leon Davidson. Davidson balked home a run to put the Tigers ahead 4-2. Davidson then settled in and retired the next two Tigers.
Davidson’s ability to pitch out of the jam was big because Smith was able to come up in the Aggies seventh and belted a two-run home run over the left-field wall to tie the game at 4.
In the eighth, the Aggies completed their comeback by staging a two-out rally. Melendez singled to left before freshman Tony Mack hit a ball in the left-center field gap that went for a double to put runners at second and third. After 134 pitches, SSU replaced Caleb Hill with Matthew Shunk.
Shunk was brought in to face Aggies leading hitter, Baber. Baber singled up the middle as Melendez scored the go-ahead run to give the Aggies a 5-4 lead.
N.C. A&T brought in senior Leon Hunter in the ninth to earn his 10th save of the season.