GREENSBORO — Might as well call tomorrow “Showdown Sunday.”
The North Carolina A&T baseball team’s hopes for a fourth-seed in the MEAC tournament could come down to whether they can defeat Florida A&M on Senior Day at 1 p.m. on Sunday at War Memorial Stadium. The Aggies’ 3-1 and 4-3 losses on Saturday pulled the Rattlers to within 1.5 games of the Aggies.
“We’ve got a battle on our hands, that’s all we can say,” said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez.
If the Rattlers (7-40, 6-17) sweep the Aggies (14-34, 7-15) with a win on Sunday, A&T will still hold a half-game lead over the Rattlers, and will have one more chance to qualify for the tournament if they can win a make-up game with Savannah State. If the Aggies, 0-5 against SSU this season, lose the potential makeup game, the Rattlers advance to the tournament because they have the edge in the season series.
Tyler Boone (2-4, 4.19 ERA) will take the mound in the Aggies crucial series finale on Sunday.
“We’re still not completely out of it,” said Sanchez. “We put ourselves in a bad situation. I would have liked to have gone into Sunday knowing we’re going into the tournament, but now we’ve got to come out here and be ready to play.”
A&T starting pitchers Brent Moore and Josh Ganus each tossed complete games for the second consecutive start. Moore allowed three runs (one earned) with six strikeouts in 9.0 frames. Ganus allowed four runs (three earned) with four strikeouts in 8.0 innings. But the A&T offense left 11 runners on the day. The Aggies brought the winning run to the plate in the end both games, but couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities.
In the first game, the Rattlers held the Aggies to just one hit for the first seven innings. It was a second-inning double that Brandon Wilkerson tried to stretch into a triple, but was thrown out by right fielder Kelvin Singletary. FAMU starter David Duncan retired the next 16 batters.
The Aggies were not as lucky. The Rattlers got back-to-back one-out singles in the fourth inning. A wild pitch from Moore advanced both runners into scoring position, setting up an RBI single through the left side by Michael Birdsong for a 1-0 FAMU lead.
The Rattlers added to their lead in the seventh. After singling through the left side, Birdsong took second on sacrifice bunt. Center fielder Jared Walker then reached on a fielding error by shortstop Luke Tendler to put runners on the corners with two out. Moore walked Marlon Gibbs to load the bases for shortstop Allen Grant who hit a two-run RBI single to right to give FAMU a 3-0 advantage.
Kendall Weeks gave the Aggies hope in the eighth as his error allowed Dairio Little to reach in the eighth inning. Wilkerson then hit a bloop single through the right side, and Stefan Jordan loaded the bases with no outs on a bunt single. But senior third baseman Mark Nales hit into a 6-3 double play. Little scored, but freshman Jeovanny Tolentino lined out to first to end the inning. The Aggies put together another threat in the ninth as Tendler and junior designated hitter both singled. James Harris, pinch running for Jergens, then stole second with two out.
“They come in here and you’ve given them hope, and now you’ve really given them hope,” Sanchez said. “It was a battle back and forth, and it’s not a team to take lightly, that’s for sure.”
FAMU was able to win in extra innings in the second game. With the game tied at 3 in the top of the eighth, Gibbs reached on a one-out fielding error by Tolentino. He advanced two more bases on a throwing error by Ganus, who tried to pick him off. Robinson then hit a single up the middle to give FAMU a 4-3 lead.
“A couple of errors, one really costly error that ultimately cost us that last run,” Sanchez said.
Dollar retired the Aggies in order in the eighth to secure the doubleheader sweep.
“We’ll have to be ready to come out and play tomorrow. If we lose, then we’ll have to play that other game. We’ll see--we’ll see who shows,” Sanchez said.
The Aggies will recognize their eight seniors in an on-field, pre-game ceremony prior to their showdown with the Rattlers on Sunday.