RADFORD, Va.-In the New River City on Wednesday, the North Carolina A&T baseball team wasn't able to hold on to their five-run lead, and fell to Radford 8-7 in a bone-chilling 41-degree evening at RU Baseball Stadium.
"We let that game slip away," said A&T head coach Joel Sanchez, after the Aggies fell to 12-21 on the year. "We came out swinging the bats well. After we got those two three-run innings and we kind of coasted a little bit. We thought we had it in the bag, and we let them back in the game. We kind of just let it slip away."
The Aggies had a strong day at the plate, tallying 11 hits, including a 4-for-4, three-RBI performance from the eight spot by freshman designated hitter Brandon Wilkerson. Junior Kelvin Freeman and sophomore Stefan Jordan had two hits apiece. Marquis Riley saw his nine-game hitting streak come to an end on Wednesday, but he did collect an RBI in the game.
In the bottom of the eighth, Radford took the lead for good. The Highlanders tied the game at 7-7 on an RBI sac fly by Josh Gardiner. Radford took the lead as Brett Mollenhauer hit the ball hard toward third. The ball went between the legs and under the glove of Luke Tendler under his glove, and Costello scored on the play.
In the ninth inning, the Aggies went down in order, as Abram Williams got the heart of the order to ground out to end the game. The Aggies split the home-and-home series with the Highlanders. For the second straight night, the Aggies took a five-run lead against an opponent.
In his second start of the season, freshman right-hander Shane Carter had a great beginning to the game. He allowed just one run through the first five innings, but ran into trouble in the sixth inning. He ended the game with six runs on seven hits with one walk in 5.2 innings for the no-decision. Freshman RHP Joe Mackey picked up the loss for A&T.
"He was good. He kept them off balance, and he was doing well until that one inning. If we make one play for him, he gets through the sixth inning," Sanchez said of Carter. "Once again, you've got to play sharp and you've got to stay sharp. Mistakes are costly against good teams. It was cold. Everybody was cold. It was cold for both sides, so you've got to be tough in cold weather."
The Aggies started to build their lead in the top of the third. Catcher Jordan singled to start the inning, and scored on a stand-up triple to center by Wilkerson. Left fielder Andre McKoy singled up the middle to bring home Wilkerson and give A&T a 2-0 advantage. Riley made it a 3-0 game on an RBI sac fly to shallow center field.
The Highlanders got a run back in the third on a two-out RBI double down the left field line by Jeff Kemp, cutting the A&T lead to two runs.
A&T kept up the pressure on Radford starter Jake Palese, loading the bases with one out on a single to center by Jordan in the fourth inning. Wilkerson brought home a pair of runs on a single to right field to make it a 5-1 game. With runners on the corners, shortstop Michael Radford grounded out to third, which allowed Jordan to score, and gave A&T a five-run advantage.
The Highlanders rallied in the sixth inning for five runs to tie the game. With two out, Radford loaded the bases on a walk, a single, and a hit by pitch. A three-RBI triple to right field by Blake Sipe made it a 6-4 contest. Sipe then scored on a wild pitch while pinch-hitter Zach Costello was at the plate, to make it a 6-5 game. The Aggies then called on freshman right-hander Joe Mackey to relieve Carter. An RBI single by Gardiner tied the game at 6.
But the tie didn't last long, as the Aggies regained the upper hand in the top of the seventh. Tendler hit an RBI single to right field to put A&T ahead, 7-6, before the Highlanders made their final push.
The Aggies will have a showdown with N.C. Central in Durham this weekend. Both the Aggies and Eagles are tied for second place in the Southern Division with a 6-6 record, so both teams are looking to gain sole possession of second place this weekend.
"We had a good offense approach, and we can take that into the weekend," Sanchez said. "We've got to go out there and win a series. We're both 6-6 and we need to come out on top. It's a conference series that's actually a meaningful conference series because we're trying to get as high a seed as we can. So we've got to come out ready for those guys, because they're going to be ready for us. It's going to be another grinding weekend."