Elon University junior Wil Leathers had a feeling he would be pinch-hitting in the eighth inning for the Phoenix baseball team.
Elon coach Mike Kennedy knew a fastball would be thrown to him at some point.
That prior knowledge led to a bloop single into left field from Leathers, scoring senior second baseman Sebastian Gomez and giving the Phoenix a 3-2 win over the University of North Carolina at Wilmington Feb. 25 at Latham Park
The rally came after five innings of stagnancy from the Elon offense after plating one run in each of the first two innings. Gomez came around from second base, barely beating the throw from UNCW left fielder Robbie Thorburn.
“It was a fastball over the middle of the plate, and I just put a good swing on it,” Leathers said. “I knew it would be me or another righty hitting. It just shows a little bit of our character and determination in the team. It was pretty hard-fought all game.”
Leathers came into the game without a hit in seven at-bats this season. Kennedy used him in favor of junior designated hitter Chris King because Leathers hits right-handed and was facing UNCW lefty Kelly Secrest.
“It was no secret (Wil) was going to get a fastball there," Kennedy said. "He just timed one up and got a big hit for us. He hadn’t been swinging it great, and sometimes guys sit over there and not feel good about themselves. But he got up there and got ready and stepped up for us.”
Elon used freshman Dimitri Lettas and senior Ryan Pennell on the hill in the ninth to mow the Seahawks down in order. They followed in the steps of freshman reliever Graham Edwards, who went three innings without allowing a run on just two hits.
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Freshman Matt Harris started on the mound for the first time, going five innings and striking out eight. His changeup helped him strike out the heart of UNCW’s order twice in the early innings.
“It’s been working well this spring,” Harris said. “I struggled with it a lot in the fall. It just kind of came together today. It feels good in practice, but not really how well it did today.”
Kennedy raved about Harris’s confidence on the hill. Harris, Edwards, and Lettas — three freshmen — combined for eight and one-third innings of work while allowing two runs on seven hits and only walking three.
“(Harris) had a couple chances where (UNCW) could have got to him a little bit, but he didn’t let it happen,” Kennedy said. “As a freshman, he knew what he wanted to throw a few times. He shook a couple pitches we called and went to what he wanted to throw and made some quality pitches. That says a lot about him.”
Elon had a 2-0 lead after two innings. After the Phoenix drew back-to-back walks to start the first inning, sophomore catcher Danny Lynch came through with an RBI groundout to score junior outfielder Quinn Bower. In the second, Bower hit a sharp grounder that bounced off UNCW pitcher Ryan Foster and scored junior outfielder Ryan Cooper.
UNCW got those two runs back in the third when it loaded the bases with no outs and Thorburn roped a double into right field that scored two.
The teams would go scoreless until Leathers’ game-winner in the eighth.
“We struggled early,” Kennedy said. “I thought we had some chances early but we came up short.”
The game was a rematch of two games from last season’s Charlottesville Regional in the NCAA Tournament, both of which were won by Elon. They will be conference opponents next year in the Colonial Athletic Association.
“I knew we were going to get into one of these matchups with these guys,” Gomez said. “Wilmington always comes here and plays us like we’re the Yankees and we play them like they’re the Red Sox. It’s that type of deal.”
Edwards takes the win, while Secrest gets hit the loss. Pennell earns the save after getting the final two outs of the game. Bower went 2-for-3 on the day and is now hitting .407 on the year.
Elon improves to 6-1 on the season and will look to extend its current four-game winning streak on a trip down I-40 to battle North Carolina A&T State University at 3 p.m. Feb. 25.