GREENSBORO-The North Carolina A&T baseball team turned in a strong performance against the defending regular-season Southern Conference champions on Wednesday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium in a highly competitive and exciting game.
The Aggies got the tying and winning runs on base in the bottom of the ninth before a double play ended their hopes of victory, as they fell to the Elon Phoenix 5-4. It was the second time this season that an A&T ninth-inning rally against the Phoenix fell short.
"That was a good ballgame today. It was a real baseball game. We had good intensity from both sides, good pitching from both sides. Our team had the right attitude, the right energy. We fought our game once again until the end," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez.
Despite the result, Sanchez was highly pleased with the effort and attitude his players displayed on the diamond.
"That's a good baseball team we played and that's the type of energy we need to have when we're facing a baseball team-it doesn't matter who we face," Sanchez said.
Left fielder Andre McKoy finished the game 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Senior second baseman Marquis Riley collected a double and three RBI. He now leads the team with 18 RBI and a .371 batting average. Right fielder Dairio Little also had two hits in the contest.
"We were into it, we battled until the end. Our guys are putting better at-bats together and we put a little pressure on them again. They battled," Sanchez said.
A&T led 3-2 going into the Elon sixth. With one on and one out, pinch-hitter Sebastian Gomez doubled down the left field line. Tyler Boone then struck out Quinn Bower, but loaded the bases as Niko Fraser was hit by a pitch. Designated hitter Alex Swim stepped up to the plate and hit the ball to Michael Radford, who dropped it.
Tomko scored on the error to make it 3-3. With the bases still loaded, Boone walked Garrett Koster, which scored Gomez. Boone threw a wild pitch while Ryan Kinsella was batting, and that allowed Fraser to score for a 5-3 Elon lead. Boone caught Kinsella looking for his eighth strikeout of the day.
The Aggies cut the lead to one in the seventh inning, as McKoy singled up the middle against pitcher Jordan Darnell. He took second and third on an error by Darnell, who tried to pick off McKoy at first. Riley grounded out to third base, and McKoy scored on the play.
The Aggies went for the win in the ninth. Radford singled to left field to start the inning. McKoy followed with a bunt to the right side. Elon first baseman Kinsella picked up the ball and made a tag attempt on McKoy. McKoy was called safe by base umpire Chris Cali. With two on and no out, Riley hit into a fielder's choice that put out Radford at third. Little then hit in a double play to end the game and the A&T rally.
"We had good pitching in there, the defense was playing solid, we had one mistake in there, but that was it. Our offense is starting to come around, so hopefully we can carry that around into the next conference series," said Sanchez.
The Aggies also had strong pitching on Wednesday, with two of their weekend starters getting some midweek work in since the Aggies have a bye-weekend. The A&T pitchers combined for a new season-high in strikeouts with 15. Reigning MEAC Pitcher of the Week Esterlin Paulino matched a season-high with six strikeouts in 3.0 innings. He allowed two runs on four hits. Sophomore right-hander Tyler Boone struck out eight and allowed three unearned runs on four hits. Freshman reliever Joe Mackey tossed 3.0 shutout frames to silence the Phoenix offense.
The Aggies jumped ahead 2-0 in the first inning. Riley slammed an RBI double to center field to score McKoy. Riley took third on a single by Little, and came home as Luke Tendler, who started the game at third base, grounded out to second base.
The Phoenix tied the game in the top of the second. The Aggies answered in the bottom of the second to take a 3-2 lead. With two out, Elon starter John Antonelli walked Carvell Copeland, Radford and hit McKoy to load the bases. Elon turned to relief pitcher Andrew MacDonald, who earned the win, to face Riley. Riley walked to score Copeland. The Aggies left the bases loaded as Little reached on a fielder's choice and Riley was put out at second on the play.
The Aggies are off this weekend, which is their bye-weekend in conference play. The A&T coaching staff will be hosting a baseball camp for high school and junior college athletes from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday and Sunday. Registration begins at 8:30 a.m., and the camp costs $85 for one session for participants.
The Aggies will hit the road next week for their second road game of the year, visiting USC-Upstate on Tuesday, March 20 at 6 p.m. They will then play at Bethune-Cookman from March 24-25 for their second conference series of the season.