Behind eight runs in the first four innings, the Elon University baseball team defeated St. Joseph’s University, 8-5, Friday, Feb. 28 at Latham Park. The visiting Hawks plated four runs over the course of the game’s second half, but Elon was able to hold on for the win.
“It was a tale of two games,” Elon head coach Mike Kennedy said. “We played pretty good early. Offensively, after we got up 8-1, they brought in some guys that started throwing some strikes. We kind of shut it down. We proceeded to go to the pen and walk a bunch of guys. That's how you let people back in the game. The message is we have to play a complete game, and our guys understand that.”
The Hawks scored a run on an RBI groundout in the first inning against Elon redshirt sophomore pitcher Michael Elefante. Elon’s answer was quick, though, as the Phoenix plated four runs in the bottom of the second. Junior center fielder Ryan Cooper hit an RBI triple and junior shortstop Andy Moore followed with an RBI double. Senior second baseman Sebastian Gomez had the final two runs batted in for the inning, one that saw St. Joseph’s make its first of seven pitching changes. No Hawks pitcher threw more than two innings in the game.
“That was interesting,” Gomez said. “I’ve never really seen that type of thing. I guess they want to get all their guys some work in. Luckily, we built our lead big enough because they shut us down for about four or five straight innings.
Elon tacked on one more in the bottom of the third before adding three more in the fourth. Junior third baseman Casey Jones had an RBI single and junior first baseman Chris King followed with a 2-RBI double. That closed the scoring for the Phoenix, but the Hawks were just getting started.
Senior designated hitter Tommy Cunningham hit a 2-RBI double in the top of the seventh for St. Joseph’s, but was ruled out for missing first base. The seventh saw Elon use three pitchers of their own, all in relief of Elefante. Elefante finished his day with five innings of work, scattering four hits and one earned run while walking three and striking out one.
“He yanked some fastballs which in turn, got him some ball counts,” Kennedy said. “We went to work on his slider during midweek for a bullpen and I thought it was better. He threw some harder ones, some firmer ones. It’s just a matter for him of continuing to get better and keep putting those things all together and hammering the strike zone. Today, he kind of got out of the zone a little bit. Give them credit, they didn't swing early a lot and force us to get him out early.”
Elon freshman pitcher Dimitri Lettas worked the final 2 1/3 innings of the game, earning a save even after allowing a solo home run to Cunningham in the top of the ninth. Elon earned the 8-5 win, but was aware that a game such as that one might not be a win in conference play.
“Those guys came right back,” Gomez said. “Other schools, that's a game we might lose right there. In conference, we have to stay in tune the whole game.”
“This game is a game of confidence,” Cooper said. “Putting wins together just boosts us more. We know we can do more. We just have to ride it out and have energy in the dugout. After the fifth inning, we lost energy and that kind of changed the game a little bit.”
Elon improved to 7-2 with the win, and St. Joseph’s fell to 1-3. Elefante improved his personal record to 3-0 with the win, and Hawks sophomore pitcher Joe Manion fell to 1-1. The save was Lettas’ first of the year and first of his Elon career.