May 18, 2008

Around the Bases

Around the Tournaments - MEAC
Norfolk State reaches Championship Game


By Chuck Curti,

Special to


NORFOLK, Va. – The improbable ride of the Norfolk State baseball team hasn’t stopped yet. Saturday night, it punched its ticket to the next destination: the MEAC championship game.


Four different players drove in two runs, and the Spartans got another gritty pitching performance in routing North Carolina A&T, 10-5, at Marty L. Miller Field. NSU will face top-seeded Bethune-Cookman at 2 p.m. Sunday with the unenviable task of having to beat the Wildcats not once but twice to earn the conference title and a berth in the NCAA Regionals.


The victory exorcised a couple of demons for Norfolk State. First, North Carolina A&T had eliminated the Spartans from the tournament the last six years. Second, at 25-23 heading into Sunday’s game, NSU is guaranteed its first winning season since 2000.


Speaking of exorcising demons, first-year sophomore TiQuan Griffin contributed two hits and two RBI to the win over the Aggies. He also threw out A&T’s Lester Rivenbark at home in the second inning. Griffin’s throw was high, but catcher Brad Stephenson hauled it in and applied the tag.


It was Griffin’s dropped fly ball on the tournament’s opening day that allowed North Carolina A&T to score the winning runs and force the Spartans to battle out of the losers’ bracket all weekend.


Since that game, Griffin has gone 4 for 12 (.333) with a run and the two RBI Saturday. He’s added a couple of nice running catches, and his diving grab in the fifth inning of Saturday morning’s win over Florida A&M robbed the Rattlers’ Adam Gordon of a hit.


“I told myself I wasn’t going to let that happen anymore,” said Griffin. “They (teammates) told me it was OK, that I would have another opportunity to help the team.”


After having its pitching staff carry the load all weekend, the Spartan offense finally held up its end. It started with a four-run first as John Boyd, Griffin and Anselmo Cantu had RBI. Cantu drove in a pair of runs with a double but injured his hamstring while going into second base. The extent of his injury is not known.


North Carolina A&T closed the gap to 4-3 in the bottom of the second on a two-run single by Lester Rivenbark that caromed off pitcher Frankie Caldeyro’s leg and into shallow center field.


The Spartan offense responded again. A balk by A&T starter Donald Howerton brought home one run in the top of the third, then Griffin smacked an RBI triple to move the score to 6-3.


“We’re coming together as a team,” said third baseman Chris Joyce, who had two hits, two RBIs and three runs scored. “We’re coming together at the right time. Pitchers are making pitches, and players are making plays.”


The Spartans put the game away in the fourth with two more runs; Boyd drew a bases-loaded walk, and Joyce hit a sacrifice fly.


Caldeyro had his rough spots Saturday night – he allowed seven hits and seven walks – but still allowed only one earned run in 7.1 innings. Jason Barker, who got a complete-game victory against Maryland-Eastern Shore Friday morning, pitched the final 1.2 innings to close out the Aggies.


Over 44 innings in the tournament, Spartan pitchers have given up 14 runs but only three of them have been earned. That’s an ERA of 0.61.


“They’ve done an incredible job,” said Joyce.


For North Carolina A&T, the tournament’s second seed, the loss marked the end of Jeremy Jones’ remarkable career. With his single in the fourth inning, he became the Aggies’ all-time career leader in hits, passing former roommate Charlie Gamble.


And while Jones leaves behind a career filled with highlights, the Norfolk State Spartans hope they have a few more left in their 2008 season.