SANFORD, Fla.—The North Carolina A&T baseball team got the go-ahead run to the plate in the top of the ninth, but a pair of base-running miscues cost the Aggies their chance to avoid being swept by Bethune-Cookman as the Wildcats won 7-5 on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Sanford Memorial Stadium.
The Aggies could not hang on to the momentum of Kelvin Freeman’s two-run shot in the seventh inning, which gave them a 5-4 lead. After giving up two runs in the seventh, the Aggies (13-27, 7-10) saw a scoring opportunity evaporate in the eighth inning as a runner was caught stealing third in a rundown, and the Wildcats (26-19, 15-6) sealed the victory with a rundown putout in the ninth.
“We couldn’t seem to hold onto the momentum and it seemed to be the theme for the weekend,” said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez. “You don’t want to end the game on a rundown. We’ve got to be better than that. Two big mistakes that took us out of one inning and took us out of the game ultimately. We’ve got to go back to the drawing board. We’ve got two big games this week and Savannah State this weekend. Savannah State’s playing pretty good.”
The Aggies were playing pretty good on Sunday, especially when Freeman blasted a 1-2 pitch over the left field wall for a two-run homer to give the Aggies a 5-4 lead. It was his 10th home run of the year, and his third multi-run shot. The Aggies threatened to keep scoring. Senior Dairio Little reached on a throwing error by Matt Noble, but with one on and one out, senior third baseman Mark Nales grounded into a double play.
The Wildcats answered right back. David Lee walked, and took third on a single up the middle by Stokes. Sams walked to load the bases with no out. A&T Right-hander Tim Jones then entered the game. He hit Noble, which scored the tying run. Designated hitter Levonte Allen hit an RBI single through the right side to make it a 6-5 game. With the bases still loaded and no out, Middleton hit into a fielder’s choice. Jones got the next two batters to also hit into fielder’s choices to get out of the jam.
In the eighth, Cameron Jergens singled to left to start another push. He was replaced on basepaths by sophomore Bo McMillan, who represented the tying run. McMillan took second as Jordan hit a sacrifice bunt to the left side of the field. But McMillan tried to steal third, while the Wildcats were focused on Jordan, and was thrown out. The play cost the Aggies the advantage of having a runner in scoring position with one out. Hipp went down swinging to end the inning.
The Wildcats added an insurance run in the eighth on a fielder’s choice by Stokes.
The Aggies fought back in the ninth. With two out, Wilkerson reached on a single through the right side to bring up Freeman, who represented the tying run. B-CU Reliever Jordan Dailey walked Freeman to bring up Little as the go-ahead run. While Little was batting, catcher Middleton tried to catch Freeman off the base at first, and Wilkerson made a move toward third. Both runners were caught in no-man’s land, and each worked to get safely to a base. But the dual rundowns ended with Wilkerson being tagged out by B-CU Matt Noble to end the game in a six-throw pick off play.
For the fourth straight game, the Aggies weren’t able to protect an early lead.
“We’d swing the momentum back and forth,” said Sanchez. “We’d score, they’d score. Against these guys, you’ve got to go out and throw up a zero when we score and hold onto the momentum.”
The Aggies weren’t able to retain a lead for longer than an inning on Sunday. Little doubled to left to start things off in the second inning, just as the rain started to hit the field. Jergens doubled over the head of center fielder Brandon Turner to put A&T in front 1-0. Sophomore Dylan Hipp shot an RBI single up the right field line past a diving Anthony Stokes to add another run.
Wilkerson and Jergens each had three hits in the contest. Hipp and Freeman each had two RBI in the contest for the Aggies. Godette (0-4) picked up the loss in the contest for the Aggies.
“We played hard, we just didn’t catch a break and made some dumb mistakes,” Sanchez said. “As a team, they’re not over-matching us. We are two pretty evenly matched teams. It came down to who makes the timely hitting and who makes the plays. It was a hard fought weekend and we just didn’t catch a break.”
A&T’s 14-game road swing continues as they head to Boone, N.C., to take on Appalachian State at 6 p.m., on Tuesday.