North Carolina Central Wins Two and Looks to Sweep Army on Sunday

The North Carolina Central baseball team was preparing to resume play after a long offseason of 11 months due to the pandemic health crisis Covid-19. Then, just a week before opening the 2021 campaign, the baseball program was hit with the university’s announcement that it will discontinue the sport of baseball at the conclusion of the 2021 season. 

The administration’s decision was due to an increase in athletics expenditures during the past four years and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on revenue opportunities. Since last March, the athletic department took action to minimize the impact of COVID-19 by slashing its overall baseball overhead expenses, resulting in the reduction of staff, with some working on temporary basics. 

Since that announcement, the Eagle players and coaching staff are using the 2021 season as a rallying cry. Not only was this a slap in the face for the Eagles, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) is losing another baseball program.

After the announcement, the players are more determined to practice and compete harder this year. They will find the most value for the lineups and pour their hearts into the final year of the program’s existence. 

The Eagles opened the season out slugging Army picking up a big win on opening day this past Friday in its home opener, a 9-4 game one win.  Then NCCU defeated the Black Knights by the score of 8 to 1 as NCCU pitching in both wins was lights out. The pitching staff only allowed 5 runs in the two games while hot bats drove in 17 runs in both games. 

In game two of the doubleheader Saturday afternoon, North Carolina Central pitchers held Army to just three hits. 

Army scored the game’s first run on two singles and a wild pitch to go up 1-0 in the top half of the first inning. The Eagles bounced right back, plating two runs on fielding miscues as Army committed three throwing errors for a 2-1 Eagles lead after one.

The score remained the same until the sixth when the Eagles sent 11 batters to the plate to score five runs on four hits to take an 8-1 lead. 

The inning started when Cameron Norgren walked, Koby Phillips doubled to right center and Norgren advanced to third. Daniel Stephens walked to load the bases and Nick Fajardo walked scoring Norgen. With the bases still loaded, Kokko Figueiredo singled through the right side and scored Phillips. The next batter, Jordan Payne-Varela, plated Stephens with a fly ball to centerfield. With a wild pitch by Black Knights pitcher Tanner Greshman, Figueiredo advanced to second and Fajardo moved to third. Cort Maynard then walked and with the bases juiced for the third time in the inning, Army replaced Greshman on the mound with reliever Trevor Finan. He was greeted by Luis DeLeon’s two run scoring single up the middle for the 8-1 win. 

North Carolina Central starting pitcher Ryan Miller threw five innings allowing three hits, one run, one earned run and four strikeouts. Reliever Scott Maylan, who had recently been named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Associations (NCBWA) 2021 Preseason Stopper of The Year Watchlist, got the save going three innings recording eight strikeouts. 

At the plate, Figueiredo went 2 for 4, knocked in a run, DeLeon went 1-for-4 and drove in three RBIs, Phillips was 2-for-4 with a run batted in double, and Norgren’s hit plated an RBI.

In game one of the doubleheader, the Eagles season and home opener, outfielder Nick Fajordo’s grand slam scored the game’s first runs for a 4-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning.

NCCU would add two more runs in the bottom of the third inning on Cameron Norgren’s run scoring double and Patrick Doran’s single to right field for a 6-0 lead.

The Eagles tacked on more runs in the game. They scored one in the fourth, and two in the sixth inning, all unearned to increase the lead to 9-0.

Army attempted a comeback scoring three runs in the seventh and another one in the eighth. It was not enough as NCCU won 9-4 for its first win of the season. 

At the plate, the Eagles’ Cort Matnard was 3-for-5 and drove home 2 RBIs. Luis DeLeon had 1 hit and 1 run batted in. Cameron Norgren had 2 hits and 1 run batted in, and Nick Fajardo went 1-for-2, scored 3 runs with 1 home run (a grand slam) and 4 RBIs. 

On the mound, NCCU starter Austin Vernon, who missed the entire 2020 season due to injury, in 4.0 innings on the mound, allowed 1 hit, 5 walks, no runs with 3 strikeouts. In relief, Ryan Decker recorded the win.

Five Eagle pitchers, Vernon, Decker, Jonathan Peacock, Matt Stanley and Caleb McCoy combined to strikeout 11 Army batters. 

The Eagles will go for the weekend sweep on Sunday. 

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