GREENSBORO-It's been a trying two weeks for the North Carolina A&T baseball team. The Aggies have dropped their last nine games-and have gotten the tying or winning run to the plate in the late innings in the last seven.
The Aggies again were that close to securing the win in each end of a doubleheader against the first place Bethune-Cookman Wildcats at War Memorial Stadium on Saturday, getting the tying run to the plate in the final inning in both games. The Aggies battled back from a 10-run deficit to nearly comeback in Game 1 and erased a shutout bid in Game 2. But in the end, the Wildcats won both games of the doubleheader, 15-13 and 3-1.
"We made a late charge, we just didn't close it out. That is the best team in the conference and they're a good ball club," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez, who said that the losses were frustrating because the Aggies know they can defeat the Wildcats.
The Aggies (13-30, 7-11) still have two crucial MEAC series left this season before heading into the MEAC Championship Tournament-giving A&T ample time to improve their conference standings and get the best seed possible for the tournament.
"We've just got to continue to go out there and compete. We've got to keep it positive and keep our heads up because we still have a lot of baseball left. We've got to stay focused, we've got to stay positive and come out and keep playing," Sanchez said.
The Wildcats (27-18, 16-4) took advantage of some early struggles of A&T starter Tyler Boone, to take a 6-0 lead in the first inning. The B-CU starter, Gabriel Hernandez, kept the Aggies to just one hit in the first three frames - a double by sophomore Luke Tendler.
The Wildcats added two more runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to take a 9-0 lead. The Aggies were able to push across a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run home run by Tendler. Tendler finished Game 1 with a 4-for-4, three-RBI, three-runs scored performance and was just a triple shy of the cycle. It was his second four-hit performance of the season. He hit safely in both contests to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.
"Game one was a tough start for us. Obviously we started down. When you're down by that many runs, it's hard to do anything offensively. Tyler settled down after the first inning, and he still gave us a few good innings," Sanchez said. Boone allowed nine runs (six earned) on nine hits in 6.0 innings. "Eventually, Tyler gave us a chance to get it going and we did."
B-CU added a trio of runs in the seventh inning, to take a 12-2 lead. On the brink of ending the game early on the conference's 10-run rule, the Aggie bats hammered away at the Wildcat bullpen, halving the score.
Shortstop Michael Radford singled to left, scoring two runs to make it a 12-4 game. Radford finished the game 3-for-5 with four RBI. Center fielder Carvell Copeland reached on a fielder's choice to put runners on the corners with one out for senior Marquis Riley. Riley grounded out to the B-CU first baseman, but a run scored on the play to cut the Wildcat lead to seven runs. RBI singles by Tendler and first baseman Kelvin Freeman brought the Aggies to within five at 12-7.
But the Wildcats responded by scoring three runs of their own in the eighth.
"It seemed like every time we scored runs, we couldn't put up a zero the next inning," said Sanchez.
Fortunately, neither could B-CU. With runners on first and second, Radford doubled to left field, bringing home both runs. He took third on the throw from left field that went to home plate. Then the B-CU catcher, Carlos Delgado, threw the ball to third to try to get out Radford. His throw went wild, and Radford came home on the error to make it a 15-10 contest. The Aggies collected three more runs on a wild pitch, an RBI single by Dairio Little and an RBI groundout by Wilkerson to chop the lead to 15-13. In the ninth inning, A&T reliever Shane Carter held the Wildcats scoreless.