Aggies Endure Tough Loss In MEAC Baseball Tourney
SALISBURY, Md. (May 19, 2017) – After the North Carolina A&T baseball team was eliminated from the 2017 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Baseball Championship Tournament with a 12-11 loss to Norfolk State, the scene from the first-base dugout the Aggies occupied at Perdue Stadium was tough to witness.
There were hugs goodbye, condolences, blank stares and tears. But as tough it was to watch, it was appropriate. A team picked to finish fifth out of five teams in the MEAC Southern Division was a hit away from completing an improbable comeback before a fly ball out to right brought the Aggies turnaround season to a disappointing end.
The Aggies closed the season 28-25, a 15-game improvement from last season. In addition, they placed a combined five players on the top two All-MEAC teams, head coach Ben Hall was named coach of the year by the conference and the Aggies tied a school record for MEAC wins with 15. Norfolk State will go on to play Bethune-Cookman in the championship game 1 p.m., Saturday at Perdue Stadium. The Aggies will go on to retool for another run at the MEAC title.
“There is a burn and an edge to our program right now,” said Hall. “The commitment level of the guys on this team took a step forward this season. Obviously, we have more talent but talent doesn't win ballgames. There has to be a commitment level and a competitive edge every day. For us to make that step this year was something special.”
Commitment and competitiveness is what the Aggies showed in the eighth and ninth innings. What made the Aggies comeback effort even more notable was that it was spurred by seniors. With the Aggies trailing 12-5, senior first baseman Kyle Clary opened the eighth with a towering blast over the left field wall that landed near the parking lot at Perdue Stadium. It was Clary's second home run of the tournament and his sixth of the season. Senior Tim Ravare got into the fun when he singled to center field off right-hand reliever Jonathan Mauricio.
Ravare reached second when shortstop Johnny Mayer dropped the initial throw on a double play attempt on a groundball from freshman Camden Williamson. The error put runners on first and second for junior Myles Sowell who doubled to right center to score Ravare. Junior Greg White's RBI sacrifice fly to right then scored Williamson to cut the Spartans lead to 12-8. Sowell moved to third on the flyout, which set up junior Brandon Melendez's RBI groundout that scored Sowell to get the Aggies to within three runs.
Sophomore reliever Leon Hunter (RHP) did his job by getting the Aggies out of the Spartans' home half of the eighth without giving up a run.
With the eighth inning handled the Aggies began making their march toward taking the lead. Sophomore Jarrett Norman singled, but momentum was halted when Mauricio recorded two straight outs, putting the Aggies season on the brink. But Ravare was not ready to end his collegiate career as he came the game alive by hitting a 1-2 pitch into right field for a base hit. Mauricio then walked Williamson to load the bases, putting the go-ahead run at the plate in Sowell, the Aggies first-team All-MEAC center fielder. Sowell delivered with a two-run single through the left side to cut the Spartans lead to 12-11. White's infield single loaded the bases again, this time for Melendez who hit the fly ball to right that led to the lamentations.
“This is a tough one to take because the game got away from us so early,” said Hall. “The thing that was so exciting was to see our guys fight until the last out. To be down the way we were and put the winning run at second base is a huge testament to our players.”
When you add their come-from-behind win over Delaware State earlier in the day, the Aggies showed fight by scoring a combined 10 runs in the eighth (6 runs) and ninth innings (4 runs) they played on Friday. The Aggies will lose two four-year starters at their position in Clary (first base) and Ravare (second base). They also lose weekend starter Kaeson Wilson along with relievers Bob Peck (RHP) and Will Greene (RHP). Reserves Keenen Herring and Xander Maddox also played in an Aggies uniform for the final time on Friday.
But N.C. A&T's senior class will be an impressive one. It will include three-time All-MEAC performer Adan Ordonez, All-MEAC outfielder Sowell, 2016 All-MEAC performer Milton Rivera and 2017 second-team performers in Melendez and White.
“I hold our seniors in high regard because that comeback doesn't happen without leadership,” said Hall. “We tip our hats to our seniors because they led the way. And to our returning guys, we hope today's loss leaves them with a lasting memory that burns in their mind for a year, so that when we're back in this situation again it goes different.”
- The Aggies Friday game against Delaware State marked the first time the two teams have played each other in four years.
- The Aggies bullpen was excellent in the tournament. In four games and 18.1 innings pitched, the Aggies bullpen posted a 2.49 ERA. Over their first three games of the tournament the Aggies bullpen only gave up one earned run.
- Myles Sowell led the way in the tournament by hitting .412 (7-for-17) with a double, a triple and four RBI.
- Kyle Clary posted an .857 slugging percentage with two home runs, a double and five RBI. Milton Rivera led the Aggies with six RBI in the tournament.