TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -The North Carolina A&T baseball team brought themselves within one game of claiming the third seed out of the MEAC's Southern Division by sweeping Florida A&M 7-2 and 7-3 in a doubleheader on Friday afternoon at Moore-Kittles Field.
If the Aggies win on Saturday in the series finale at 1 p.m., the Aggies will claim the South's third seed in the MEAC Baseball Tournament May 16-20 in Norfolk, Va. If the Aggies lose, they can also claim the third seed if Savannah State loses to Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. A third seed would put into motion a contest against Norfolk State, the No. 2 seed from the North.
"It's two wins, that's the important thing is two wins. We've got to catch some momentum going into the conference tournament," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. "(Florida A&M) is out of it so, we have the opportunity to go in as a No. 3 seed, so we've got to do our business and not worry what else is going on."
The Aggies (17-34, 11-12) captured the two victories with timely hitting and strong pitching performances by southpaw Estarlin Paulino and right-hander Tyler Boone, who each went the distance in their respective games.
"Both of them gave us good outings. We didn't expect (complete games) from both of them, but they did. They threw strikes and kept the pitch count down," Sanchez said. "There were quite a few quick innings, a few five-pitch innings. That was good, good for them. "
A&T took control of the first game in the top of the sixth. With one out, Andre McKoy singled to the right side. He took second on a wild pitch, and FAMU pitcher Marcus Roberts walked catcher Stefan Jordan. With two on and one out, Brandon Wilkerson hit the ball to short. FAMU worked to complete a 6-3 double play, but the home plate umpire Kelly Ledbetter called interference on the play, to load the bases with one out instead of ending the inning.
Michael Radford was then hit by a pitch, which scored McKoy and made it a 5-2 contest. Carvell Copeland then hit into a fielder's choice, and the Rattlers tried to put out Jordan at home in a force play, but Jordan was called safe at home for the sixth A&T run. Marquis Riley hit a sac fly to center to score Wilkerson and put A&T up by five.
A&T starter Paulino (7-4) held the Rattlers scoreless in the final two frames to secure his third complete game of the year.
The Rattlers trailed 4-1 in the sixth inning of the second game, when they got the go-ahead run to the plate with one out after loading the bases on three singles. Catcher Ryan Sheplak, who represented the go-ahead run, hit a two-run single down the left field line on a 0-2 pitch to make it a 4-3 contest. The Rattlers then pinch hit Justin Abney for Tyler Lawson. Abney went down on strikes. Pinch-hitter Aaron Smith came up to bat and hit into a rally-ending fielder's choice.
In the top of the seventh, Dairio Little reached on an error to get things going. Freeman tripled to deep center field to score Little and make it a 5-3 contest. The Rattlers then called on Stephen Dollar to pitch. Luke Tendler came up to the plate and singled to right field to score Freeman to put A&T ahead 6-3. Eric Chiz slammed an RBI double to center field to give Boone another insurance run. Boone (5-6) picked up the win.
Wilkerson drove in two runs in Game 1, while Tendler drove in two runs in Game 2.