NORFOLK, Va.—The 2013 season came to a close for the North Carolina A&T baseball team on Friday afternoon, as the seven-time defending champion Bethune-Cookman Wildcats used an early lead to eliminate the Aggies 11-5 from the MEAC Tournament.
The Aggies who won a series from Bethune-Cookman for the first time since 2005 in March, were hoping to pick up their third win against the Wildcats this season—something they have not done since 1998. But the Wildcats (31-24) overcame the Aggies for the fourth straight meeting to advance, taking advantage of some A&T pitching struggles early.
“Every season comes to an end eventually, but it’s a rough way to end it right there,” said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez, who is in his second season with the team. “If we would have had a better finish, we would have been in the game for longer and could have competed to the end. We did, we left it all out on the baseball field, but we just were too far down to make any noise against them. That’s unfortunate, but, I think we played hard and played hard until the end.”
The Wildcats took a 6-0 lead early in the contest, and the Aggies were unable to erase the gap. The Aggie offense didn’t pick up until late in the game, as A&T didn’t record their first hit until the fifth inning. Senior Kelvin Freeman, the 2013 MEAC Player of the Year, didn’t get a hit until his final at-bat, but he made the most of it, drilling a 1-0 pitch well over the left field wall.
“Kelvin Freeman obviously has been swinging the bat all season. He got his last home run in his last college at-bat, so that was good to see,” said Sanchez.
Sophomore Brandon Wilkerson finished 2-for-2 with two walks and two runs scored as well as an RBI. Senior Dairio Little also had a pair of hits in the contest, including a double in his last career at-bat.
“Unfortunately when you’re down that much, it’s tough. You’ll have to string multiple hits, you have to put guys on base and you have to have timely hitting,” Sanchez said.
That was something the Wildcats were able to do right from the start of the contest, as they totaled four runs on three hits off A&T starter junior Justin Godette.
With one out and one on, second baseman Eric Sams singled up the middle, and center fielder Brandon Turner advanced to third. While right fielder David Lee was at bat, Godette threw a wild pitch, which allowed Turner to score. Godette then hit Lee with a pitch to put two on for first baseman Anthony Stokes. Both runners advanced into scoring position on another wild pitch. Stokes singled to center to score the team’s second run. Designated hitter Jordan Thomas hit into a fielder’s choice, and Lee scored to make it a 3-0 lead for B-CU. Third baseman PJ Biocic reached on a throwing error by senior third baseman Mark Nales, and the fourth Wildcat run crossed the plate. Catcher Clay Middleton walked. A&T then called on sophomore right-hander Shane Carter to pitch. Carter got shortstop Shaun McCarty to ground out to end the inning.
The Aggies got the tying run to the plate in the second inning, but wasn’t able to capitalize on the scoring opportunity. B-CU starter Scott Garner walked the bases loaded with one out. Catcher Stefan Jordan flied out to shallow left for the second out. Second baseman Jeovanny Tolentino grounded out Garner to strand all three runners.
The Wildcats added another pair of run in the second. Johnson tripled to left field to start off the frame and scored on Turner’s sac fly. Sams singled to left field, and scored as Lee doubled off the left-center wall to make it a 6-0 lead for B-CU. Freshman right-hander Kirby Whicker came on to pitch and retired the next two batters.
The Aggies finally scored a run in the third, still without collecting a hit. Garner walked Wilkerson to start the third. He stole second and took third on a wild pitch. Garner then walked Freeman to put runners on the corners with no out for A&T junior shortstop Luke Tendler. Tendler hit a long sac fly to right to snap the shutout.
Johnson added another triple in the third to score the seventh Wildcat run.
A&T got its first hit off Garner in the fifth inning, as Wilkerson singled to center to start things off. But Garner got Freeman and Tendler to ground out to end the inning.
The Wildcats took an eight-run lead on a two-RBI double down the right field line by McCarty in the fifth.
With two out, Little singled through the left side in the sixth for the second A&T hit of the game. Garner then walked sophomore right fielder Dylan Hipp. Catcher Darrin Meaders, who entered the game defensively in the fourth, singled to short, as McCarty made a back-handed grab. He tried to throw the ball to second to put out the runner, but the throw wasn’t in time. With bases loaded, Tolentino walked to score the second run. Wilkerson stepped up to the plate and picked up an RBI infield single to make it a 9-3 contest. Bases were loaded for Freeman, who flied out to right-center to end the rally.
Stokes hit a 1-0 pitch over the left field wall to put the Wildcats in front, 10-3, in the bottom of the sixth. B-CU added another run in the seventh on an RBI triple down the right field line by Lee.
Freeman slammed a two-run shot for his 16th home run of the year, and second of the tournament, to cut the deficit to 11-5 in the eighth inning.
“He’s going to really get a chance in pro ball. Somebody would be crazy not to give him a chance, with that God-given power,” Sanchez said of Freeman.
In the ninth, B-CU reliever Eros Modena retired the first two batters before giving up a double to Little. He got James Harris to strike out to end the game and the Aggies’ season.
The Aggies finished the season 16-38 overall with an 8-16 MEAC mark.