Of everything that has helped the Elon University baseball team to a 13-7 start, the Hawkeye State must be the most beneficial.
Two junior college transfers from the state of Iowa, juniors Lucas Bakker and Jake Stalzer, have combined for six wins and have now won the last four Southern Conference Pitcher of the Week honors. Bakker was awarded it March 10 and 17 while Stalzer won it February 24 and March 3. Elon becomes the first team to win four straight pitcher of the week awards outright since The Citadel in 1992.
Bakker has a 1.27 earned run average and has thrown back-to-back complete games, the first Elon pitcher to do so since the Phoenix joined the SoCon in 2004. Stalzer sports a 1.67 ERA and went the first 23 1/3 innings of the season without allowing an earned run.
Along with sophomore Michael Elefante (4-0, 1.63 ERA), who only made three appearances on the mound a year ago, the brand new starting rotation for the Phoenix is beginning to shape up.
“Our pitching staff has been a pleasant surprise,” Elon head coach Mike Kennedy said. “I can’t say that we were worried but we didn’t know they were going to be this good early in the season. We’re going to try and build on that and keep going.”
Bakker helped Elon to a 1-0 victory over offensive juggernaut Georgia Southern University March 14, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Stalzer took a loss in the first game of a doubleheader March 15, but Elefante came on in the second game to put the Phoenix in a position to win. Senior Ryan Pennell (1-0, 0.84 ERA) came out of the bullpen for the victory in that one.
“Overall, I thought we pitched it pretty well this weekend,” Kennedy said.
In the first game, Ben Morgan’s home run put Georgia Southern up 3-0 in the middle of the sixth, but Elon came back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning. With the bases loaded and two outs, Chris Hall provided a pinch-hit single to left, scoring two.
Garrett Chapman then homered to begin the seventh for a 4-2 Georgia Southern lead. The Eagles added three more in the ninth on a pair of errors and an RBI single by Aaron Mizell. Elon answered with two runs in the bottom of the ninth on a Ryan Cooper RBI double to left center, but that was not enough.
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Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh in the second game, Elon tied things up on a fielder’s choice and went on to take the lead with a long rally in the eighth. An intentional walk to Chris King loaded the bases with one out, and it was Andy Moore who put the Phoenix ahead with a bloop single to right. Quinn Bower added insurance with a sacrifice fly to center.
With the series victory, Elon moved to 13-7 on the season and 2-1 in SoCon action. Western Carolina University, picked to finish first in the league in the preseason, visits Latham Park March 21-23. The team picked to finish second, The Citadel, comes to town the following weekend, March 28-30.
“You want to get off to a good start, and certainly being at home helps that,” Kennedy said. “We have a great opportunity with three in a row at home. You don’t usually have that happen, number one. Number two, you don’t usually have two or three of the top teams in the league at home. We have all three back-to-back-to-back. We just have to cash in and take advantage of that.”
The Phoenix will travel to Raleigh to take on North Carolina State University March 19. First pitch at 3 p.m.