Wildcats Split Tough Series Opener at NCCU, 3-2, 7-0
DURHAM, N.C. - The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (8-8, 4-1 MEAC) split Saturday's Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) series opener with the North Carolina Central Eagles (9-6, 3-2 MEAC), suffering an Eagles comeback to open the day, and taking total control of the second game for the 1-1 record to open the series.
"I thought we played very good defense," Head Coach Jason Beverlin said. "Pitching was very good. Hitting from some individuals was very good. The first game we just didn't come up with the big hit when we needed it, we left a lot of guys on base."
The Wildcats first entered the scorebook on the day with one run in the top of the second. Matt Noble led off with a double to right center and came home on an error by NCCU starting pitcher Michael Romano for the 1-0 B-CU lead.
With two outs and an 0-2 count in the bottom of the third, NCCU first baseman Luis Diaz hit a double to the farthest reaches of fair territory down the right foul line, plating a pair to claim the 2-1 lead.
Three walks in the bottom of the fifth came back to bite the Wildcats, as NCCU second baseman Troy Marrow singled to left field, bringing home the final Eagles run to go up 3-1.
Entering in relief for starter Ali Simpson, Christopher Waltermire held the line for the Wildcats amidst a rally attempt, making one of his best outings of the season, throwing two innings, while allowing just one hit.
"He did a really great job today, that was great to see," Beverlin noted of the right-hander, adding that they had added a new pitch, a cutter, to the junior's arsenal for today.
The Wildcats came charging back in the top of the eighth, leading off with an Eros Modena stand-up double to outer left field, followed by Lee reaching as a hit batter. Noble reached on a fielder's choice, and Eric Sams loaded up the bases as an additional hit batter. Clay Middleton fisted an infield pop-up, misfielded by the Romano, scoring Modena to narrow the deficit to one run.
Facing NCCU's closer, Gavin Garrera, B-CU opened the ninth with consecutive base hits. With bases loaded, a heads-up play by shortstop Zach Lee stopped Brandon Turner from scoring the tie run, holding the lead. Ending on a bases loaded fly to center, B-CU dropped the first game of the series.
"I thought the first four innings we put some really good swings on the ball," Beverlin said. "Then we got away from that approach a little bit and tried to pour it on again at the end. It was just a little too little too late."
Romano (1-2) earned the win for NCCU, while Simpson (0-2) took the loss for the Wildcats after throwing six innings with four walks and two strikeouts.
In the second game, B-CU took control early, as David Lee lined a single into shallow right center. Marrow dropped a foul pop-up and Noble made them pay, driving an RBI double to the left field corner and bringing Lee home for the 1-0 first inning advantage.
The Wildcats built their lead in the third, as Josh Johnson collected a leadoff infield single, advanced to second on a steal and third on a groundout. Noble converted for his second RBI of game, taking the first pitch through the left gap to bring Johnson home for the 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, starting pitcher Anthony Stokes stood his ground, holding the Eagles without a run through five innings, allowing just three hits and two walks, while striking out two. He gave way to Michael Austin in the sixth, on the way to Jordan Dailey's close.
Carrying a two-run lead into the final top half, B-CU went on the offensive in the seventh. Turner began the stanza with a leadoff single to right, while an error then allowed runners at the corners and a hit batter by NCCU starter Glenn Frye loaded the bases.
Johnson opened the inning's scoring with a single fired through the right side. Modena plated two more on the very next pitch with a two-RBI single. Noble again did damage with a two-RBI double to deep right center, clearing the path for a five-run inning and a 7-0 lead.
"Hopefully it will give our guys a little more confidence with runners in scoring position," Beverlin commented.
Dailey (1.2 IP, 1H, 0R) secured his third save, the shutout and the win for Stokes (1-1) in the home part of the inning, fighting through a jam, inducing a 4-6-3 double play to conclude the day with a victory.
Modena was a power hitter for the Wildcats in the opener, batting 3-for-4 with three doubles, adding one additional run and a pair of RBI in game two.
"All day long he had good at-bats," Beverlin said of Modena.
Noble took over the second game, batting 3-for-4 with four RBI to close out the day.
The Wildcats and Eagles return to action on Sunday (March 10), with the series finale set for a 1 p.m. start.
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