DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (May 18) – The Florida A&M University Rattler Baseball team completed a herculean four-game, two-day grind with an 8-1 victory over Norfolk (Va.) State to capture the school’s eighth Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship at Jackie Robinson Stadium Saturday afternoon.
The victory was the second of the day for FAMU (27-32) over Norfolk State (24-26), which came into the championship round needing one win for the title.
However, FAMU won that first game Saturday, 5-4, to force the decisive winner-take-all battle.
And the Rattlers, who have an especially proud tradition in baseball, would not be denied the ultimate prize, winning their second title under current head coach Jamey Shouppe, who led FAMU to the 2015 crown, ending a 20-year title drought.
What made this doubleheader sweep even more special was the Rattlers avenging an earlier 7-2 loss to Norfolk on Thursday, that dropped them into the elimination bracket.
Friday, the Rattlers, or the “Grinders” as some fans have called them this season, did just that, coming from 6-1 down to eliminate Delaware State, 9-8 in 10 innings, before dethroning the defending MEAC champion North Carolina A&T Aggies, 6-2 in a late night game, that settled another score – the loss of the 2019 Southern Division title after a hard-fought doubleheader loss just a week ago in Greensboro.
FAMU’s victory Saturday also marked the fourth time the program had played in an extended two-game MEAC championship round (1987, 1994, 2003, 2019), and it was the third time the Rattlers came away on top (1987, 1994, 2019).
The Men of Orange and Green got clutch performance after clutch performance all week – indicative of the 2019 season in which the Rattlers proved to be the toughest of outs in college baseball.
FAMU set the tone early in the clincher, bolting to a 6-0 first inning lead, using six hits and aided by three Norfolk State fielding errors.
Robert Robinson scored the game’s first run on Jared Weber’s RBI grounder for a 1-0 lead. Willis McDaniel’s single and subsequent Spartan miscue, scored Tucker Rayburn and Octavien Moyer for a 3-0 edge.
Seyjuan Lawrence laced a single into center field, scoring McDaniel and and Jared Weber for a 5-0 count. Kaycee Reese would score the final run of the frame on a Norfolk throwing error which made the count 6-0.
Norfolk State got a run back in the bottom of the first on Korey Singh’s RBI single which scored Caleb Ward for a 6-1 count.
FAMU got that run back in the top of the second Octavien Moyer scored on Jared Weber’s ground out to third, making the score 7-1.
The Rattlers closed the scoring in the top of the fifth when Tucker Rayburn tripled, and later scored on an RBI single by Willis McDaniel fir the 8-1 final.
McDaniel and Robinson led the Rattlers with three hits, followed by Rayburn with two hits. McDaniel, Weber and Lawrence each drove in two runs in the second game.
FAMU’s pitching staff was outstanding the entire tournament, and junior righty Kyle Coleman (6-5) was one of the brightest stars, turning in his third complete game in his last four starts. He struck out nine hitters, scattered six hits, walking one and allowing one run in nine innings.
WHAT THE RATTLERS SAID: Even Florida A&M head coach Jamey Shouppe thought his team’s four-game run through the elimination bracket was “an all-timer.”
But it fit in with what he preached to a team that started 0-6 and went through a seven-game skid midway through the season.
“Some teams sit back and enjoy success, others work harder,” Shouppe said. “We kept practicing, kept working even though there wasn’t much success.
“Down 6-1 to Delaware State [Florida A&M would win 9-8 in 10 innings to start the run], we were starting to point fingers and fuss,” Shouppe said. “We got together and said if we go out, we go out together.”
Shouppe got two complete games from Kyle Coleman in the tournament, the second in the championship game on just two days’ rest. He scattered six hits, walked one and struck out nine while keeping the Spartans off-balance after they registered their lone run in the first inning.
“Unbelievable,” Shouppe said of Coleman. “He had life in his arm, his pitches were well-located.”
Coleman smiled when asked if he could continue throwing on just two days’ rest. Of course.
“If it works, don’t change it,” Coleman said. “[Anything else] wasn’t an option after we came this far. Everyone fought.”
Outstanding Performer honors went to Kaycee Reese, who batted .455 with six runs scored and six RBIs in the tournament. The senior was that batter for FAMU with two strikes and two outs the ninth inning of Saturday’s first game.
He kept alive, fouling off four pitches before drawing the walk to keep the inning going. Maxwell followed with his game winner.
“I was comfortable and relaxed. You have to stay loose,” Reese said. “If you would asked me if we would win the tournament when we were down five runs to Delaware, I would have said `it would be tough, but I know we’re going to fight.’”
RATTLER ALL-STARS: Senior third baseman Kaycee Reese was named the Tournament’s Outstanding Player, while FAMU head coach Jamey Shouppe was named Outstanding Tournament Coach.
Outstanding Performer: Kaycee Reese, Florida A&M
Outstanding Coach: Jamey Shouppe, Florida A&M
Miguel Rivera, Delaware State
John Weglarz, Delaware State
Kyle Coleman, Florida A&M
Willis McDaniel, Florida A&M
Tucker Rayburn, Florida A&M
Kaycee Reese, Florida A&M
Chase Anderson, Norfolk State
Jonathan Mahoney, Norfolk State
Caleb Ward, Norfolk State
Zach McLean, North Carolina A&T State
Brandon Melendez, North Carolina A&T State
Dwayne Franklin, Savannah State
WHAT’S ON DECK: The waiting game will now begin as the Rattlers will find out on the NCAA’s Memorial Day May 27 Baseball Tournament Selection Show on ESPNU where their regional destination will be.
-Jeff Cunningham of MEAC Media Relations contributed photos, and FAMU quotes to this story.