NORFOLK, Va.- The North Carolina A&T baseball team nearly overcame a four-run deficit before falling to the No. 2 seeded Norfolk State Spartans 4-3 in the first game of the MEAC Championship tournament at Marty L. Miller Field on Wednesday morning.
"It came down to executing baseball, who played a fundamentally sound game," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. "Give them credit they played hard. Their pitching kept us off balance and they made some good pitches when they needed to-both guys, their starter and their reliever. But on our side, we didn't execute and play fundamental baseball."
The Aggies will play an elimination game 9 a.m., Thursday at Miller Field.
"It's a long road back from the loser's bracket but it can be done," Sanchez said. "We've got to go out and win them one at a time. Tomorrow's game is the next one we're going to worry about, and we're going to go on from there."
The Aggies trailed 4-0 going into the top of the sixth inning. Senior Carvell Copeland began the Aggies rally by singling to center field. Right fielder Dairio Little singled to short to put two on with one out. It set up an RBI single through the left side by first baseman Kelvin Freeman to snap the shutout. With two outs, both Little and Freeman advanced into scoring position on a balk by Horner. Freshman left fielder Bo McMillan made Homer pay for the mistake with a two-run single to center field to make it a one-run game. Horne was then pulled from the game in favor of Jordan Egan. He got Stefan to line out to short to end the inning.
A&T starter Estarlin Paulino retired eight batters in order from the fifth through seventh innings to hold the Spartans and keep the Aggies in the game.
The Aggies kept working to overcome the one-run deficit. In the top of eighth, senior second baseman Marquis Riley singled up the middle to get things started. Egan retired the next two batters before picking off Riley at first. Paulino and reliever Joe Mackey combined to keep the Spartans off the board in the bottom of the eighth, keeping the Aggies within striking distance as they were down to their last three outs.
"[Paulino] settled down after his first inning, but he settled down and gave us 7.2 quality innings. Unfortunately we didn't score enough runs for him."
In the top of the ninth, pinch hitter Andre McKoy singled to left field with one out to put the pressure on NSU again. But Jordan popped up to first and Bo Wilkerson flied out to center field to end the game. Egan earned his third save on the year, blanking the Aggies in the final 3.1 innings of the contest and holding them two a pair of hits.
It's the second consecutive game that the Aggies have lost to the Spartans to open the MEAC tournament
The fundamentals hurt the Aggies early. Two fielding errors cost the Aggies in the first inning, as it allowed the Spartans to take a lead they never relinquished.
The Spartans had the bases loaded with two out in the second. Center fielder James Taylor then walked, which allowed NSU to score the game's first run. NSU added to its lead when, left fielder Tyon Ore hit the ball toward shortstop. The ball bounced off A&T infielder Michael Radford and into the outfield. Two runs scored on the fielding error to give NSU a three-run advantage.
"That first inning turned out to be the difference. If it we played those two balls, they wouldn't have scored runs," Sanchez said.
An RBI double to right by Ross Cardwell gave the Spartans a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth.