GREENSBORO-The North Carolina A&T baseball team swept the Florida A&M Rattlers in a twinbill on Saturday by 8-1 and 6-0 finals, to extend their winning streak to five games and to gain more ground in the MEAC Southern Division standings. The Aggies have not won five in a row since May 14-22, 2010. It's their longest winning streak since they won six consecutive games from May 1-9, 2010.
The Aggies (12-18, 6-5) defeated the Rattlers (5-30, 3-8) with a combination of outstanding pitching, terrific defense and timely hitting.
"We played well. We got two wins which is the bottom line. We knew it was going to be another scrappy team, so we had to come out and play good baseball. We can't take anybody lightly, so we didn't. That was it," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez.
Senior Estarlin Paulino and sophomore Tyler Boone both made cases to earn MEAC Pitcher of the Week honors on Saturday. Paulino struck out a season-high 11 in a season-high 8.0 innings and allowed just one run in Game 1. It's the most strikeouts he has had in a single game since he struck out a career-high 12 on April 17, 2010 against UMES. Boone tossed a complete-game shutout in Game 2, allowing just four hits and two strikeouts in 7.0 scoreless innings.
"Our pitching did well," Sanchez said. Both of those guys threw a lot of strikes and worked ahead in the count. They kept attacking them and forcing contact. The strikeouts were coming, but you've got to throw strike one."
A&T's offense made Paulino's day even easier in the eighth inning when Tendler hit a two-run homer to right field to give the Aggies a 7-1 lead. With two out, catcher Stefan Jordan doubled to left field. He scored on an RBI single by freshman Brandon Wilkerson to make it a seven-run contest. RHP Shane Carter tossed a shutout ninth inning to secure the win for the Aggies. Paulino won his fourth game of the season in Game 1 with his strong performance.
"That's the Paulino that we knew we had and we expect that out of him every time out. He's our No. 1 guy. I think he's getting in a groove. Last week he had a good start on that Saturday, and he got rained out. He came out and did it again on Sunday," Sanchez said.
In Game 2, the Aggies earned their first shutout victory on the year. Boone, who picked up his third win of the season in Game 2, retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced, aided by strong defense from Tendler and Radford. In the fourth, the Rattlers threatened, getting two people on base with one out. Third baseman Cory Franklin lined the ball to second baseman Riley, who made a great diving grab. Riley then threw the ball to Freeman at first to put out Reid for an inning-ending double play. The Aggies had several strong defensive plays on Saturday.
"Our left side of the infield made a lot of plays today, especially in the second game. They hit 14 or 15 balls to that side. Luke had some good plays over there at third," Sanchez said, noting that Radford had 11 assists in Game 2.
The Aggies opened up the game by scoring a trio of runs in the fourth to take a 4-0 lead. With one out, McKoy homered to left field. Little then slammed the ball off the center field wall for a double. FAMU then brought in Thomas Barwick to relieve starter John Roberts. Riley reached on an error by Barwick, who bobbled Riley's sac bunt. With runners on the corners, Freeman flew out to center field. Little scored on the play. Tendler then hit an RBI single, which brought home Riley. The Aggies added their final two runs in the sixth inning, on a two-RBI double by Riley to left-center field.
Boone retired the last four batters of the game to collect the win. His start on Saturday was a marked improvement from his performance last Saturday at Savannah State, where he allowed seven runs on five hits in 2.1 innings with four walks.
"Last week (Boone) had a rough outing. He was up in the zone, and today he was throwing strikes and he was in the zone. We worked a little bit this week, and he made some adjustments," said Sanchez.
The Aggies will be looking to extend their winning streak on Sunday at 1 p.m., when they take on the Rattlers for the series finale. Brent Moore, who has won his last two starts, will take the hill for the Aggies. It will be their last home game until Tuesday, April 17.
"We've got to keep riding this momentum. We're starting to come together as a team," Sanchez said.