GREENSBORO – North Carolina A&T left-hander DarAmani Swift didn’t pitch a gem, but he was brilliant in pitching himself out of jams. Elon stranded 12 runners on Wednesday afternoon as the Aggies picked a rare win over the Phoenix, 5-3, at War Memorial Stadium.
The Aggies (4-2) won their third straight by beating the Phoenix for the first time since March 11, 2007 when they won 14-9 at Elon. It was also just the third time in the 30-game series history A&T came away with a win over the Phoenix. Elon has not been too bad this season either with win two wins over Cincinnati, three blowout wins over Wagner and a win over UNC Wilmington. The Phoenix’s only lost was to nationally-ranked N.C. State.
But Swift, in his first career start, and the defense behind him was instrumental in slowing down the Phoenix (6-2). Swift (1-0) pitched six innings with three strikeouts, six hits surrendered and six walks. But he only gave up one run.
“I told him, bottom line, you’ve got to go out and throw strikes and make them hit the ball,” said A&T coach Joel Sanchez. “He threw six innings. He hasn’t thrown that many in a while, so we like what we saw from him. The only bad thing is; he walked six. But he got himself out. He made good pitches when he needed to and got some big outs.”
A&T’s offense gave Swift a cushion early. Leadoff man Ryan Hill opened the Aggies first inning with a triple to left field. Junior Brandon Mitchell followed with a pop fly to left field that Elon’s Casey Jones lost in the sun and dropped. Hill scored on the error for the Aggies first run. As he has done in many plate appearances this season, senior slugger Luke Tendler walked, putting two men on.
Cameron Jergens loaded the bases with a single to right, which set up Lester Salcedo’s RBI sacrifice fly to right to score Mitchell from third and move Tendler from second to third. Junior Brandon Wilkerson drove in the third and final run of the inning by hitting into a force play that allowed Tendler to score.
An errant throw by Elon catcher Chris King with Tendler going to third allowed Tendler to score in the third inning to give A&T a 4-0 lead. Tendler’s RBI double in the fifth scored Ryan Hill for a five-run Aggies lead.
The Aggies leads would be threatened several times throughout the afternoon. But Swift seemed to throw the right pitch or Elon seemed to make the crucial base-running mistake or A&T’s defense seemed to come up with the big defensive play at the right moment to help Swift escape.
In the first, Elon put together consecutive singles by Jones and Danny Lynch. The hits ended up being harmless because prior to the two hits, Swift picked off Sebastian Gomez going to second. When Ryan Cooper grounded out, Swift was out of the jam.
Elon left two stranded in the third. In the fourth, Elon had two hits against Swift, but Jones was caught stealing and Cooper ended the inning with a fly out. The Phoenix also stranded two in the fifth.
After walking Andy Moore to open the seventh, Sanchez went with right-hander Jamal Clark. Quinn Bower greeted Clark with a single through the right side. An infield hit by Gomez loaded the bases as the Aggies were not able to get out of this jam without damage. Jones’ groundout scored the Phoenix’s first run. A Kyle Clary error at third helped the Phoenix score its second run. Cooper would hit into a force play, which brought home Gomez to make it 5-3.
King would then hit a shallow pop fly down the left field line that Mitchell ran down from his shortstop position as he made a diving catch to end the Phoenix threat.
“He’s back at shortstop. He probably needed to be there the whole time,” said Sanchez, referring to Mitchell starting the season at second base. “He’s been playing solid defense. He’s a good tools guy. Defensively, we made some good plays for our pitchers the whole game.”
Elon threatened again in the eighth as Nick Zammarelli singled and Moore walked. Right-hander Brian Poag entered the game and retired the next two batters to end the inning. Elon put the tying run on again in the ninth thanks to an error, but Poag struck out D.J. Paone and King and got Cooper to ground out to pick up his first save of the season.
Left-hander Tyler Manez (0-2) took the loss. Tendler went 2-for-2 with two RBI and two runs scored. Hill also scored twice. The Aggies begin conference play Saturday with a 1 p.m., doubleheader against N.C. Central at War Memorial Stadium. The series concludes on Sunday with a 1 p.m., showdown.