TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida A&M (13-5, 4-1 MEAC) continued its hot start in conference play, sweeping Saturday’s doubleheader against Savannah State (9-10, 0-2 MEAC) by scores of 7-5 and 4-3 at Moore-Kittles Field. Like many games so far in 2017, the Rattlers battled back from late inning deficits to take both games from the Tigers.
Trailing 4-0 in the bottom of the seventh inning in Game 1, Florida A&M rallied to tie the game at 4-4.
Eric Blanc, Jr. came in to pinch-hit for Austin Michaud and singled to left field to get things started off Savannah State reliever Alex Wright, who came in for starter, Trevor McKenna. Ty Russ then worked a full count walk and a wild pitch moved runners to second and third with no outs. With one out and Kaycee Reese at the plate, a wild pitch allowed both runners to advance, bringing in the first Rattler run of the afternoon. Reese reached on a walk, forcing SSU to make another pitching change. John Capra then hit a sacrifice fly to center field that was misplayed, allowing Capra to reach base and Russ to score from third. Ben Ellzey then singled down the third base line and advanced to second after the left fielder misplayed the ground ball. Both Capra and Reese came around to score on the play, knotting the score at 4-4.
Savannah State regained the lead in the top of the eighth inning, scoring one run on two hits.
The Rattlers wouldn’t trail for long, as they responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 7-5 lead.
Garrett Wilkinson reached on a walk and Malachi Mitchell singled deep in the hole at shortstop, before Ty Russ advanced both runners on a sacrifice bunt. The Tigers went to the bullpen, bringing in Paul Sheffield to face Cameron Johnson, who came through with his first hit of the season, a 2-RBI single to right field, giving Florida A&M the lead. John Capra then walked with two outs, and Ben Ellzey singled to left, scoring Johnson from second for the final run.
The Tigers made things interesting in the top of the ninth as they got the tying run on first base, and had runners on first and third with two outs. As the tying run, Mason Calloway attempted to steal and get himself into scoring position, but Javon Byrd, who had just entered the game as a defensive replacement threw out Calloway at second for the final out of Game 1.
For the first six innings of Game 1 the Rattlers struggled to come through with runners on base.
Florida A&M spoiled an opportunity to take an early lead in the bottom of the third inning. After back to back singles by Ty Russ and Russell Rauh to start the inning, Kaycee Reese failed to advance the runners on a sacrifice bunt, and then grounded into a double play. With two outs and Russ now on third base, Capra hit a hard line drive right at the center fielder to end the inning.
After taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning, the Tigers threatened again in the top of the fifth inning but JoJo Durden made some key pitches to work out of the jam.
Savannah State had runners on first and third with no outs when Durden threw a couple of great breaking balls to strike out Turner Davis for the third time in as many at bats. With the infield in and runners on second and third, Durden went back to his curveball and forced a weak ground ball to Ben Ellzey at third for the second out. Jalen Atterbury then flied out to right field, as Durden worked out of the jam.
A pair of walks came back to haunt the Rattlers in the top of the sixth inning, as Savannah State extended their lead to 4-0. With two outs and a runner on second, Durden walked nine-hole hitter Jacob Lightle. Thomas Nicoll then came in to relieve Durden and walked the first hitter he faced on four pitches to load the bases for Savannah State’s hottest hitter, Bryce Luken, who dropped a single in over John Capra’s head at shortstop to score two.
FAMU wasted another good scoring opportunity in the bottom of the sixth inning. After Kaycee Reese’s leadoff double and John Capra’s walk, the Rattlers had runners on first and second with no outs once again. Ben Ellzey then grounded into a fielder’s choice, and Aubrey McCarty flew out to center field. Willis McDaniel was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Dallas Oliver with two outs, but Trevor McKenna tight-roped out of danger, as Oliver grounded out to shortstop to end the inning.
Despite the early offensive struggles the Rattlers found a way to rally late to steal Game 1.
In Game 2 it was the Rattlers who took an early lead, scoring one run in the bottom of the third inning.
Capra led off with his second single of the game, then Garrett Wilkinson crushed a double over the right fielder’s head to place runners at second and third with no outs. Ben Ellzey gave Florida A&M the lead with his sacrifice fly to left field, scoring Capra from third.
The Tigers tried answering with runs of their own in the top of the fourth inning, as Savannah State loaded the bases with no outs after three consecutive singles, but Ryan Anderson came up big when he needed to.
Anderson quickly jumped ahead in the count and struck out Jorge Lopez on a breaking ball out of the zone, then rolled a ground ball double play to end the threat.
Russell Rauh’s first collegiate homerun, a solo-shot to left in the bottom of the fourth, gave Florida A&M a 2-0 advantage.
The Tigers scored three runs on three hits in the top of the fifth inning to take the lead 3-2.
With one out and runners on first and second, Jacob Lightle doubled down the left field line to tie the game. After advancing to third on a wild pitch, a sacrifice fly by Kyle Gerdts scored Lightle to put Savannah State out in front.
The Savannah State bullpen couldn’t hold the lead, allowing the Rattlers to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth inning 3-3.
After singles by Garrett Wilkinson and Aubrey McCarty and a Ben Ellzey walk, FAMU had the bases loaded. With two outs, Cameron Johnson was hit by a pitch, scoring Wilkinson from third for the tying run.
Ben Ellzey led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to left field, then Aubrey McCarty worked a walk. With runners on first and second and no outs, Willis McDaniel laid down a bunt base hit and the Savannah State pitcher sailed the throw down the right field line, allowing Ellzey to score the game’s winning run from second base.
Hunter Fillingim (3-0) picked up his second and third wins of the season on the afternoon. Fillingim pitched 1.2 scoreless innings between the two games, allowing only one hit and one walk with one strikeout.
Game 1 starter JoJo Durden tied a career high with seven strikeouts on the afternoon, but also had a season high four walks. Durden worked 5.2 innings, surrendering four runs on six hits.
Ryan Anderson was strong for the first four innings of Game 2, before allowing three earned runs in the fifth. Anderson finished the day with five innings pitched, eight hits, three earned runs, two walks, and three strikeouts.
Ellzey finished the afternoon 3-for-7 with a run scored and two RBI. Wilkinson and Capra both went 2-for-4 with two runs scored on the day, while Wilkinson added his second double of the season.
Savannah State pitchers Gregory Smith (1-1) and Austin Robinson (0-2) suffered the losses for the Tigers.
Florida A&M will look to sweep the series tomorrow at 1:00 PM and keep sole possession of first place in the MEAC Southern Division.
As always, fans can follow Rattler Baseball on Twitter @BaseballFAMU and on Facebook.