TALLAHASSEE—Saturday’s doubleheader between the North Carolina A&T and Florida A&M baseball teams served as a good snapshot of the way things have been going for the Aggies this season.
The Aggies won the first game, 12-3, behind strong pitching and solid hitting. The victory snapped A&T’s five-game skid .But the Aggies weren’t able to find the performance consistency they needed to sweep the doubleheader as the Rattlers took Game 2, 3-2.
Right-hander Josh Ganus turned in a strong performance in Game 2, coming within two outs of a complete-game victory. But the Aggies (8-18, 4-6) were only able to muster three hits and committed a costly error in the seventh as they watched as the Rattlers (2-26, 2-9) win on a walk-off single by designated hitter Scott Sheplak.
“What’s been the key this season is we can’t make the plays when we need to make the plays,” said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. “We play good and then we play not-so-good. We haven’t been consistent. We’ve been up and down. We started off good with our first series of the season and then we dropped back. We just haven’t been consistent—bottom line.”
The Aggies have won two of their six weekend series to date—starting off the year with a doubleheader sweep of Buffalo, and taking two of three from Bethune-Cookman for the first time since 2005 with a 9-6 series finale victory on March 17.
But the Aggies have struggled to sustain their success on the diamond. Coming into the FAMU series this weekend, the Aggies lost the last five contests, and their longest winning streak of the season is two games. They dropped two games earlier in the week by six runs and 14 runs respectively, despite holding an early lead in each. In the last 10 A&T losses, the Aggies have committed 34 errors. They have hit .210 as a team and scored 27 runs—while in that span, opponents have tallied 100 runs, and have batted .360 against A&T pitchers.
Those troubles in game-to-game consistency appeared again for the Aggies on Saturday.
The Aggies blanked the Rattlers until the sixth inning of the first game, when Justin Abney slammed a solo shot to make it a 5-1 ballgame. The Rattlers scored two more in the eighth, and had the bases loaded with two out before reliever Shane Carter got Reginald Grant to fly out. The Aggies pulled away for good in the ninth by plating six runs on four hits. A&T starter Brent Moore picked up the win after allowing two runs (both solo homers) on eight hits with four strikeouts in 7.0 innings.
But after scoring six runs to end the first game, the first 11 A&T batters were retired in order by FAMU junior Heath Blackburn to start the second game. The Aggies didn’t get their first hit until first baseman Kelvin Freeman doubled in the fourth.
At that point the Aggies were already down 1-0 as FAMU scored after getting three consecutive hits in the third inning.
Shortstop Luke Tendler reached first on an error by second baseman Bryce Farrar, and stole second. But he came up from the slide into second with a hand injury, and was replaced on the basepaths by James Harris. Harris took third and home on back-to-back wild pitches by Blackburn. Freeman then put A&T in front, 2-1, with a home run to left. Ganus retired the side in order in the sixth.
In the seventh, junior catcher Stefan Jordan reached third after walking, stealing second and taking third on an throwing error by the catcher Ryan Debi. He was left stranded as sophomore Bo McMillan hit a long fly that died at the warning track.
The Rattlers scored in the seventh. With one out, pinch hitter Michael Birdsong reached on a fielding error by Harris. The Rattlers then got back-to-back singles to load the bases, with the winning run standing on second. First baseman Bennie Robinson hit into a fielder’s choice, which allowed the tying run to score. There were two out and runners on the corners for Sheplak. Sheplak singled over the head of Harris at second base for the team’s second win of the year.
“That gave them a break. That would have been two outs,” Sanchez said of the error. “They got a little momentum and they carried it. They got a few more hits, they found the holes.”
Pulling out a series victory against the Rattlers is crucial as the Aggies work to finish higher than fourth in the Southern Division in order to get a better seed for the MEAC Tournament. They have four more conference series in the regular season to accomplish that goal.