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Bethune-Cookman Wins 2007 MEAC Baseball Championship

May 20, 2007

Bethune-Cookman University scored four runs in the bottom of the eighth to rally and defeat North Carolina A&T to capture the 2007 Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Championship in the second game of the championship series on Sunday at Marty L. Miller Baseball Field in Norfolk, Va. The victory gave the Wildcats their 11th MEAC crown, as well as back-to-back titles.

N.C. A&T (28-31) shocked the Wildcats of B-CU in the first game with a 4-3 win that went to the wire. That victory forced a second game.

Joseph Gautier toed the mound to start for B-CU (33-25), while N.C. A&T turned to Tim Johnson who threw six innings just three days ago for the Aggies.

The ‘Cats jumped out on top first in the bottom of the third when senior third baseman Luis Gonzalez collected his third homerun of the year over the right field wall to put B-CU on top 1-0.

The Aggies struck back in the top of the next inning to grab a 2-1 advantage.

N.C. A&T senior first baseman and MEAC Player of the Year Charlie Gamble continued to blaze a hot trail through the B-CU pitching staff with a single to left that put two men on with one out. Joe McIntyre collected an RBI single immediately after to score Jeremy Jones for the 1-1 tie. Third baseman Nelson Santos collected a sacrifice fly to right that pushed across Gamble for the Aggies lead.

N.C. A&T struck for two more runs in the fifth when Jeremy Jones started a two-out rally for the Aggies to score speedster Nick Mayo from second base. Joe McIntyre collected another RBI single after that when he scored Jones … again, with a single to straight-away center field. For McIntyre, it was his second RBI hit of the game.

The Aggies led 4-1 after six innings of baseball as the ‘Cats were unable to put any runs on the board in the bottom-half of the inning.

Reliever Phil Enright toed the mound for the Wildcats in the sixth as Gautier finished the day allowing four runs (three earned) off seven hits with five strikeouts.

Enright immediately gave the ‘Cats a boost with 1.2 innings of work and zero runs.

Still trailing 4-1 in the seventh, B-CU got another run across when sophomore Chris Brown—serving as a back-up first baseman after the ejection of Alejandro Jimenez in the fifth inning, collected a big double to left to kickoff the frame. José Almonte then laced a one-out RBI single to centerfield that scored that brought around Brown to cut the Aggies lead at 4-2.

But in the eighth inning, Bethune-Cookman kept the faith and made a run that was very similar to an earlier run against Norfolk State just over a month ago in this very-same stadium.

“We knew we had to keep focused because we didn’t want to end the season like this,” expressed right fielder Angel Mercado afterwards. “All we talked about this year was winning a regional series, and we knew we had to get to business and win this game in order to achieve that goal.” After Patrick Jones pinch hit for Neal Jones, he registered a bunt single while then advancing on a wild pitch from Johnson. Luis Gonzalez’s pull single through the left side easily scored Patrick Jones for the 4-3 N.C. A&T lead.

That would close the books on a brilliant pitching performance from Johnson who allowed four earned runs on seven hits and striking out nine (9) Wildcats in the process.

Relieve Marquis Frink entered the game for just one batter as he walked Angel Mercado to put runners at first and second with no one out for the Wildcats.

That would bring about Ron Phelps who had been a thorn in B-CU’s side since the last series in Greensboro back in early April.

Angel Negron immediately went to work on Phelps with an RBI single up the middle that plated Gonzalez for the tying run. That would bring the crowd for B-CU back into it, and a jubilant celebration from the dugout at Gonzalez came across the plate.

“My assistant coaches deserve a lot of credit for keeping our guys heads in the game,” stated B-CU eighth-year head coach Mervyl Melendez. “I was probably as down as you can get, even more than the players, from the third inning of the second game on. But my assistant coaches kept the players in the game, and kept them believing that we can still win … even in the end.” After getting shortstop Chris Henault to pop out on the next at-bat, Chris Brown became a bigger player than ever as he collected an RBI single to left field that plated Mercado and pushed Negron to second. That gave B-CU just their second lead of the day with a 5-4 advantage.

Suspended for the first game of today’s eventual doubleheader, sophomore catcher Drew Clark grounded out on the play, but it did allow pinch runner Devin Conner to move to third base. That would be huge as Almonte then singled to left to bring in Conner for the 6-4 B-CU lead.

In the ninth, MEAC Pitcher of the Year Francisco Rodriguez came out of the bullpen looking to close out the game.

With the league’s Rookie of the Year Chris Beatty standing on first via a Francisco Gomez walk, Rodriguez wasted little time getting the N.C. A&T top of the order to go down in order to earn his first save of the year and get the win for the Wildcats.

Francisco Gomez collected the win to improve his record to 1-2, while the loss went to Frink of N.C. A&T who evened his record at 1-1.

“This is amazing how we stayed focused and just kept believing even when we had our backs against the wall,” stated Chris Brown. “I was getting ready to come into the game just in case Kwasi [Alejandro Jimenez] couldn’t go, and I just wanted the chance to make an impact because I didn’t want the year to end like this. We worked so hard, but that team over there [N.C. A&T] was good, and they truly gave us everything we could handle … and the fans could handle.” The Aggies were led by All-Tournament performer Charlie Gamble on the day with a 3-for-4 showing at the plate including scoring one run. Jeremy Jones and McIntyre also collected multi-hit performances at the plate.

As for the victorious B-CU Wildcats, it was Gonzalez and Brown having big hits with two hits a piece. But Almonte was the key for B-CU with a 3-for-4 day at the plate with two RBI while batting at the bottom of the order. Angel Mercado collected Tournament MVP honors for the Wildcats with a 9-for-17 hitting performance with five runs and batting .529 on the weekend.

The win went to Francisco Gomez out of the bullpen as he allowed zero runs in 1.1 innings on the hill with one strikeout and one walked batter.

“Coming out of the loser’s bracket is taxing on your pitching staff, but that’s what happens in a baseball tournament,’’ said N.C. A&T head coach Keith Shumate. “I’m proud of our guys, they showed mental toughness, we used guys over and over again and they pitched well. But we just lost to a deserving champion tonight.”

Bethune-Cookman will now await next Monday’s selection show to see where they will go for the upcoming NCAA Regional. This will mark the eighth time in nine years that B-CU will represent the conference in the NCAA Tournament.

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