Denis Mikush jogged out of the bullpen, ready to face the Elon University Phoenix for the second time in three days. The sophomore pitcher for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County baseball team had a rocky outing in his first matchup with Elon Saturday, March 8, when he walked five in 2/3 of an inning.
Monday, March 10 was more of the same for Mikush. With his team leading 7-6 over the host Phoenix in the bottom of the eighth inning, Mikush inherited two runners in scoring position with one out. By the time he was done, Elon pulled ahead to the 8-7 score that proved to be the final advantage.
Mikush had walked three hitters and induced one ground ball for a fielder’s choice to go with a wild pitch. Elon junior left fielder Casey Jones, the first hitter faced by Mikush, walked with the final ball being the wild pitch. Redshirt freshman center fielder David Lowrey hustled home on wild pitch to tie the game at 7. Freshman third baseman Nick Zammarelli walked with the bases loaded to score sophomore catcher Danny Lynch and give Elon the lead.
“We knew Mikush had good stuff but he struggled to throw strikes and we laid off pitches,” Elon head coach Mike Kennedy said. “We got in some good counts and were good enough to draw walks in some big situations where usually you get overaggressive.”
The three-run eighth inning capped off an Elon comeback going back to the sixth inning, when the Phoenix trailed 7-2. Back-to-back RBI singles from junior designated hitter Chris King and junior shortstop Andy Moore greeted the UMBC bullpen, and junior pitcher Jonny Dierks hit junior right fielder Ryan Cooper to score King.
“We haven’t lost two games in a row all year,” Cooper said. “We lost yesterday. Today, we came out and started slow then came back. It was a great team win.”
In the eighth, Moore led off with a sharp ground ball to third that was booted by UMBC junior third baseman Anthony Gatto.
“They opened the door for us,” Kennedy said. “They didn’t make a play at third base, we made them pay for it.”
A few batters later, Cooper hit a double to right field to plate junior pinch runner Blaine Bower and pave the way for Mikush to enter the game.
“(He) threw a fastball and I just tried to put a good swing on it,” Cooper said. “It ended up finding a hole and it was a big hit.”
The comeback followed a shaky outing from freshman pitcher Matt Harris, who surrendered six runs, all earned, on nine hits over 3 2/3 innings.
According to Kennedy, his struggles stemmed from the fact that Harris was left in Elon during the team’s road trip to Coastal Carolina University over the weekend in order to prepare for this start.
“We probably learned a lesson,” Kennedy said. “It was a long ride, so we decided to keep him here and get some rest. But he didn’t get his work in and we’ll never do that again. We think maybe by being in his own bed he’ll be a little fresher and ready to go, but he didn’t get his work in. Obviously, he wasn’t prepared, but he’ll bounce back. He’s a tough kid.”
The Elon bullpen worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing six hits and only one run. Redshirt freshman pitcher Chris Hall worked out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the seventh inning without allowing a single run. An inning later, junior Grant Fisher relieved Hall and helped work out of another jam.
“The bullpen threw good, got in some good counts and dodged a couple bullets,” Kennedy said. “Chris Hall had bases loaded, no outs and got out of it. Those guys pitched well, those guys competed tonight.”
Fisher picked up the win in relief — his first career win. The loss was saddled to Dierks and Elon senior Ryan Pennell earned the save.
Cooper believes that the win will pay dividends, especially down the road.
“We can start off fast, we just have to find a way to play a complete game,” he said. “If we can manage that, we’re going to be a really tough team. Knowing that we can come back like this can help us down the road.”
Elon improved to 11-5 with the win and will face Liberty University at Latham Park at 5 p.m. March 11.