GREENSBORO-The North Carolina A&T baseball team showed their grit and fighting spirit a tightly contested game with Bethune-Cookman, which was televised nationally by ESPNU, on Friday afternoon.
The Aggies got the winning run to the plate in the eighth and the tying run to the plate in the ninth against the six-time defending MEAC Champions Wildcats , but were unable to convert any runs, as they fell to B-CU, 7-5, at War Memorial Stadium.
"Again we gave ourselves the chance to win. We were in the game from the start," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. "We were still in it until the last. We still had a chance to win."
It was the fifth straight close loss for the Aggies, who have gotten either the winning or tying runs to the plate late in the game in that stretch.
"It was a back-and-forth battle and it was just a matter of who would have momentum there at the end. They capitalized, they executed some plays. A lot of times, it comes down to who has the momentum at the end. They got us again," he added.
A&T came within a run in the eighth inning. With one out, right fielder Dairio Little singled to short. He advanced to third as junior Kelvin Freeman singled to left field. With runners on the corners and one out, DH Brandon Wilkerson came up to bat, representing the go-ahead run. While Wilkerson was at the plate, Freeman made a break for second. He was caught stealing, but while the Wildcats were in pursuit of Freeman on the basepaths, Little made a break for home. Little stole home, and Freeman was put out in a rundown, after being tagged by the B-CU second baseman. Wilkerson grounded out to end the A&T rally.
In the ninth inning, Juan Pizarro hit a sac fly to center field to bring home Brashad Johnson to give B-CU a 7-5 lead. The Wildcats then called on Jordan Dailey to face the Aggies in the bottom of the ninth inning. With one out, McKoy walked. Shortstop Michael Radford then came up to face Daily, representing the tying run. Radford popped out to short, and centerfielder Carvell Copeland grounded out to third to end the game.
"It was a good game. We've just got to do a little bit better job executing," Sanchez said.
Being in front of a national audience didn't change the Aggies' attitude toward the tilt, and didn't affect the team's performance, Sanchez said.
"You could feel it--there was an extra added energy, excitement I guess you could say. I tried to keep everybody as even as possible because it's another baseball game, it's another important baseball game because it is a conference game, and we still have to go out and play our game. The cameras are just obstacles on the side. We still have to play a baseball game between the lines," Sanchez said.
And the Aggies got to a quick start, taking a lead in the bottom of the first.
The Wildcats scored first, taking a 1-0 lead on an RBI single by right fielder David Lee in the first inning. But the Aggies responded by scoring a pair in the bottom half of the frame. Senior Copeland walked to start the inning, and stole second. He moved to third on a single by senior second baseman Marquis Riley. First baseman Freeman hit a sac fly to left, which allowed Copeland to score and tie the game. Riley came trotting home on an RBI single by third baseman Luke Tendler to put A&T ahead, 2-1. The hit extended Tendler's hitting streak to 14 games. He ended the game with two hits.
The Wildcats struck again, taking advantage of an error in the fourth inning. B-CU tied the game at 2-2 as Jairo Acevedo scored on an RBI single by Jake Welch. Josh Johnson then flied out to center field. Copeland tried to get out Welch at first, but made a throwing error. That allowed Welch to make it to third base. Brandon Turner then singled and brought home Welch to give B-CU a 3-2 lead. An RBI single by Lee gave the Wildcats a two-run advantage.
But the Aggies responded again, tying the game with two runs in the bottom of the fourth. Freshman Wilkerson walked to get things started. He moved to second as junior McKoy singled through the left side. Both runners advanced as Radford grounded out. With two out and two in scoring position, Copeland reached on an throwing error by the B-CU second baseman. Both runners scored on the play to make it a 4-4 game.
"[Our offensive approach] was good there for a little bit. We had a good game plan and we executed early," Sanchez said. "We just kind of let [B-CU starter Rayan Gonzalez] off the hook. He struggled, and then got into a groove and kept them in the game. We just need to continue to have that same approach in the next two games."
The Aggies will host Bethune-Cookman in a doubleheader starting at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The Aggies will start RHP Tyler Boone in Game 1 and LHP Brent Moore in Game 2 of the twinbill. The Wildcats are slated to start RHP Gabriel Hernandez in Game 1 and LHP Ali Simpson in Game 2.