Wildcats and Aggies Split Series Opener in Greensboro
"The first game we came out a little rusty after a day off and a travel day," Head Coach Jason Beverlin said. "It definitely showed the first game."
The Wildcats took the early lead in the first outing, with Josh Johnson making the first entry into the scorebook on David Lee's first-inning RBI groundout. Johnson put up an RBI of his own in the top of the second with a line drive down the left field line, and Eros Modena extended the lead to 3-0 with a turfed RBI infield single.
However, the Aggies countered with a pair of runs in the second. North Carolina A&T came back in the bottom of the third, using four hits to collect three runs and take a 5-3 lead.
"Montana [Durapau] wasn't quite as sharp as normal. Everything was up today and they did a good job of putting good swings on his pitches," Beverlin said.
The Wildcats drew the game to one run in the fifth on Brandon Turner's hard-hit single up the middle for the 5-4 game.
Coach Beverlin was ejected during the first game after arguing a call in the bottom of the fifth inning.
In that frame, the Aggies began to create some separation, as NCAT first baseman Kevin Freeman hit a first-pitch home run to left field to open the two-run inning. In the sixth, the Aggies used seven hits and a pair of Wildcats' errors to put eight runs on the board.
The Wildcats kept fighting, adding runs in the sixth and the seventh, with PJ Biocic scoring on a Johnson RBI and Lee crossing the dish on a wild pitch, but ultimately fell to the Aggies, 15-6. The nine-run loss was the worst conference loss for the Wildcats since a 10-0 shutout by Florida A&M in 2003.
The Wildcats returned to the field with a determined look in game two of the MEAC doubleheader, producing a totally different look, as starter Ali Simpson held the Aggies without a hit until the bottom of the fourth.
"He did a really good job, especially pitching out of trouble," Beverlin said of Simpson. "He got himself into a couple of jams with some walks and hit-by-pitches. I think he's right there. He's ready to turn the corner and come on strong."
In the top half of the fourth, the Wildcats notched their first of many runs with Lee reaching as a hit batter and crossing the dish on Turner's first-pitch RBI single through the right side.
P. Biocic led off the fifth with a single deep into the left side pocket and reached second on Modena's single to the identical location. However, Biocic went down hard at second, leaving the game in trade for pinch runner Jake Welch, scoring along with Modena on Lee's two-run double through the left side. After advancing to third on a groundout, Lee crossed on Turner's RBI single through the right side, earning the ‘Cats a 4-1 advantage.
The Aggies countered with their final hit and final run on another first-pitch homer by Freeman, this time to right, bringing the game to a 4-2 B-CU lead.
Modena added an RBI single to left to rebuild the three-run lead, but the Wildcats were ready to blow the game open.
With one out away, back-to-back base hits allowed Lee to score on Eric Sams' single up the middle. With two runners on, the Aggies made the move to reliever Andrew Cook in place of starter Josh Ganus. Chris Biocic fired an RBI single through the right side, getting the 'Cats started against Cook. Shaun McCarty reached as a hit batter to load the bases, setting up Johnson for a two-RBI single through the left side.
Modena walked, prompting another pitching change to DarArmani Swift, who walked Matt Noble to reload the bases and set the table for the biggest hit of the day.
Taking on the doubleheader on his 22nd birthday, Lee gave himself and the team a gift with a grand slam to center, landing high on the batter's eye.
The Wildcats still had one more in the tank, as Sams walked, and Turner took an 0-1 pitch to center for an RBI triple, extending the lead to a season-best scoring margin of 15-2.
"Once you get things rolling, it snowballs in a positive direction," Beverlin said. "Everybody that went up there, you could tell they were a lot more relaxed and a lot more confident."
In the bottom half, after taking the handoff from Jordan Dailey on the mound, freshman Byron Ferguson brought the contest to a close with a pair of flies and a swinging strikeout, securing the biggest margin of victory for the Wildcats since run-ruling Coppin State, 15-1, in the 2011 campaign.
The win was also the largest advantage over N.C. A&T since topping the Aggies, 16-1, in the 2009 MEAC Tournament Semi-finals.
Lee led the Wildcats with a solid pair of birthday outings, hitting 4-for-7 with seven RBI and four runs scored. Modena was also solid for B-CU, hitting 6-of-9 for two RBI, scoring three runs. Turner added 5-of-8 hitting with three RBI, while Johnson batted .500 with four RBI.
Simpson (1-3) collected the win, pitching 4 1/3 innings, allowing three hits with four strikeouts.
The ‘Cats put up a season-high 18 hits, while limiting the Aggies to just three.
The Wildcats and Aggies return to War Memorial on Sunday for the rubber match with a 1 p.m. first pitch.
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