RALEIGH-That one timely hit eluded the North Carolina A&T baseball team again, as the Aggies weren't able to capitalize on late scoring opportunities in a 5-1 loss to No. 13 N.C. State at Doak Field at Dail Park on Tuesday evening. The Aggies left 11 runners stranded in the contest.
"We were one key hit away from making it very interesting. We kept getting guys on and kept swinging the bat, but we just couldn't pull the trigger at the right time," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. "Give credit to them. They've got some arms coming out of the bullpen, one right after the other."
Tuesday's game helped to serve as a tune-up for the Aggies before heading into their final regular-season series at Florida A&M. The Aggies, who are currently fourth in the MEAC Southern Division with a 9-12 record, have a chance to move into third place if they win at least two games this weekend and if Savannah State loses at least two of three against Bethune-Cookman.
"We've got to go out and take care of business at Florida A&M," Sanchez said. "We got a chance to position ourselves a little bit better than fourth place. We've got to go out and play our baseball game and hopefully we do finish strong, and take some momentum into the conference tournament. "
Additionally, facing a highly-ranked team like The Pack (34-12) now gives the Aggies a glimpse of the competition they could face if they earn a bid to the NCAA Regional with a MEAC Championship, which is precisely what the Aggies have been working toward all season.
The Aggies were also thinking upset on Tuesday as they took an early lead against The Pack. With one out in the Aggies third, senior Carvell Copeland singled up the middle. He took second on a single by third baseman Luke Tendler. Right fielder Dairio Little singled, but when N.C. State shortstop Chris Diaz made a diving catch behind the second base bag, it prevented Copeland from scoring.
Diaz's diving play certainly saved a run for The Pack as Kelvin Freeman singled to left field to score Copeland. Tendler, however, was thrown out at home by left fielder Tarran Senay. It turned what could have been a three-run inning into a one-run rally.
A&T starter southpaw Ruben Torrellas picked up right where he left off in his last start-blanking the opponent. Torrellas shutout the Liberty Flames over the last six innings of his previous start last week. Torrellas kept N.C. State scoreless in the first two innings of Tuesday's tilt. But ran into a little trouble in the third and fourth innings. Torrellas ended the game with the loss, allowing four runs on seven hits and five walks.
Senay gave The Pack a 2-1 lead in the third with an RBI double to right field. With runners on second and third and one out, centerfielder Jake Fincher then grounded out to short, allowing the third NCSU run to score.
"Ruben just struggled a little bit with his command. He got himself into a tight spot, but he pitched out of it and our defense picked up him a little bit," Sanchez said.
Down 4-1, the Aggies tried to give him a little more help in the sixth. Freeman's double just missed being a home run over the center field wall. Consecutive walks to McKoy and Chiz loaded the bases. NCSU head coach Elliott Avent then called on Vance Williams to relieve Dillon Frye and face freshman Brandon Wilkerson. Wilkerson grounded into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.
Another Aggies threat came up short in the seventh as Little was called out on strikes with runners at first and second. The Aggies pressured The Pack again in the eighth, but Senay stole a home run from McKoy, making a leaping grab to keep the ball from going out over the left field wall.
The Pack added a run on an RBI groundout by Mathews to take a four-run lead over the Aggies the bottom of the eighth.
The Aggies kept fighting until the end. A&T had runners on the corners with two out, but Tendler flied out to right field to end the game. Freeman and Riley led the team with a pair of hits in the contest.
The Aggies will hit the road on Thursday, traveling down to Tallahassee, Fla., to play a Friday doubleheader at 1 p.m. The series finale is Saturday afternoon at 1. The Aggies will compete in the MEAC Baseball Tournament at Norfolk, Va., from May 16-20.
Despite the loss, Tuesday's contest was special for Sanchez, as it gave him the opportunity to coach against a former mentor. Avent served as Sanchez's head coach when he played for New Mexico State in the late '90s.