GREENSBORO--In baseball as in real estate, it’s location, location, location.
Consistently hitting the strike zone at home has been a struggle for some of the North Carolina A&T pitchers. That was the case on Wednesday evening, as the Radford Highlanders collected 14 hits and three walks in a 13-3 victory over the Aggies at War Memorial Stadium.
“We’ve got to locate the baseball," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. "We can’t just rely on throwing it. We’ve got to locate and mix certain pitches up. We’ve got to throw more than one pitch for a strike."
Four multi-run innings helped lift the Highlanders (16-11) past the Aggies (9-20), who hold a team ERA of 7.66 in their 22 home games this season. Southpaw starter Dustin Myers picked up the loss, his third, after allowing six runs on four hits in 3.0 innings. Right-handers Shane Carter and Andrew Cook combined for seven runs on 10 hits in 5.0 frames.
“We go up early and we give it right back," said Sanchez. "Our starting pitcher was not getting the job done. It was another rough day on the mound. He just didn’t locate the very well. He left the ball up in the zone and they knocked him around a little bit…He didn’t have multiple pitches [for strikes].”
It was the second straight evening where the Aggies found themselves in a good-sized hole early.
“It was tough again playing from behind that big again,” Sanchez said.
The Aggies took a 1-0 lead in the first. Leadoff hitter freshman Jeovanny Tolentino reached first as catcher Jordan Taylor dropped the third strike. He stole second and scored as shortstop Luke Tendler singled to centerfield. First baseman Kelvin Freeman reached on an error by shortstop Jeff Kemp, but both runners were stranded as designated hitter Cameron Jergens hit into an inning-ending double play.
The Highlanders tied the game and took the lead on three sacrifices in the second inning. First baseman Alexander Lee hit a sacrifice fly to right, scoring left fielder Zach Woolcock, who tripled to start the inning. Woolcock batted 4-for-5 in the game and was a home run short of the cycle. With runners on the corners, Taylor hit into a fielder’s choice, as Myers tried to put out designated hitter Ryan Burgess at home. But the runner was safe, and Radford pulled ahead, 2-1. Chris Coia’s sacrifice fly scored Hunter Higgerson. Moments later, Josh Gardiner reached second as sophomore Dylan Hipp dropped a fly ball in center field. A run scored on the error, giving Radford a three-run lead.
The Aggies responded in the bottom of the inning. Senior Dairio Little doubled to right field and came home as senior third baseman Mark Nales hit an RBI single to make it 4-2 in the second.
Lee, who finished 3-for-3 on the night for Radford, hit a two-run home run with two out to make it 6-2 in the third.
The back-and-forth continued as A&T scored their third and final run in the third inning. Hipp scored from second on a sacrifice fly to center by Freeman.
Sophomore Carter came in to pitch in the fourth, relieving Myers. He held the Highlanders scoreless for two innings, but he ran into some trouble in the sixth. Radford loaded the bases in the sixth with one out. Gardiner hit a fielder’s choice that allowed Lee to score the seventh Highlander run. Right fielder Blake Sipe hit a two-RBI double to right to make it 9-3. Radford scored four more runs in the eighth, all off senior Cook.
“We couldn’t control the damage. By the time we got guys on, it seems like we lacked the timely hitting,” Sanchez said. “We didn’t do a great job defensively to help ourselves out.”
The Aggies had just two batters reach base in the last four innings of the contest. It was the seventh time this season that the Aggies have lost by 10 or more runs.
The Aggies will host N.C. Central this weekend in a three-game series. The Eagles are in first place in the MEAC Southern Division, while the Aggies are fourth.
“We need to regroup and come out. We’ve got a very important weekend against N.C. Central. We’ve got to be ready to go,” Sanchez said.