GREENSBORO – A wild pitch in the bottom of the ninth led to two UNC Greensboro runs within mere seconds of each other as the Spartans overcame a six-run deficit to defeat North Carolina A&T 8-7 in baseball action Wednesday night at UNCG Baseball Stadium.
Despite the loss, the Aggies (11-13) were again competitive in a midweek game against an in-state opponent. They already have a win over Elon this season and last week they held a 6-0 lead over High Point before winning 7-6 in 10 innings.
On Wednesday, Ryan Hill’s two-run RBI double to right field in the fifth inning gave the Aggies a 7-1 lead over a Spartans program that had won five straight over A&T coming into the game.
“We know we’re capable of playing with these teams now,” said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. “We know we have enough talent to play with the teams on our schedule, and if they take us lightly we should beat them. We’ve been hanging in there, and we haven’t been overmatched. We just didn’t execute in a couple of innings on a couple plays, and we didn’t throw enough strikes today, or we win this one.”
The Spartans (13-11) slowly started to creep back in the ballgame after a strong first six innings from right-hand senior starter Justin Godette. After pitching seven scoreless innings against High Point on March 19, Godette only gave up two runs over his first five innings pitched.
But in the sixth inning he began to run into trouble. Three consecutive singles by the Spartans loaded the bases for Zac MacAneney. But MacAneney didn’t have to swing the bat for the Spartans to score their third run as Godette’s 1-1 pitch escaped the glove of Lester Salcedo, scoring Julien Abreu from third. With the Aggies infield playing back, MacAneney grounded out to second to score Jake Hall.
A fielding error by Aggies shortstop Luke Tendler helped UNCG score its third run of the sixth, leading Sanchez to bring LHP DarAmani Swift out of the bullpen. Swift retired L.J. Kalawaia and Nin Marrero to end the inning with A&T still holding on to a 7-5 lead.
“Swift is a guy who has to throw the ball over the plate. When he does, he gets people out,” said Sanchez.
Swift gave up only one hit over the next two innings, but lost command of his control in the ninth. He opened the ninth by hitting UNCG’s leading hitter Sean Guite with a pitch. Eric Kalbfleisch followed with a single to center that Hill fumbled a bit, helping Guite move to third. Marrero’s RBI double to left scored Guite to make it a 7-6 game.
After Swift walked Abreu to load the bases, Sanchez brought weekend starter Tyler Boone out of the pen to face Hall. Boone lasted one pitch as his first toss bounced in front of the plate and went all the way to the wall allowing Kalbfleisch to score to tie the game. When Marrero figured out Salcedo was having trouble finding the ball, he sprinted to home plate to score the game-winning run.
“It was just a tough way for the game to end,” said Sanchez. “It was just tough. We had the game but our guys didn’t throw strikes in the last inning. We hit a guy, we walk a guy and then in one pitch we lose the game. It’s a tough one to swallow. But we’ve got to scratch this one off quickly and get ready for this weekend.”
The Aggies are in first place in the MEAC Southern Division and will face Florida A&M in a three-game series at War Memorial Stadium this weekend starting with a 1 p.m., Saturday doubleheader. Hill led the Aggies Wednesday with two hits and two RBI.
Brandon Mitchell hit a two-run RBI triple as part of a four-run second inning that gave the Aggies a 4-0 lead. Kalbfleisch and Tyler Long had three hits apiece for the Spartans.