GREENSBORO — In search of momentum moving forward in the Southern Conference, the Elon University baseball team fell backwards.
The Phoenix lost the first two games of a three-game series with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro by scores of 5-1 and 12-3. In addition to offensive struggles, a pitching swap didn’t work out and the defense regressed to its early season woes.
UNCG 5, Elon 1
It was a failure to adjust to the Spartans pitching that troubled Elon in the first game of the weekend.
“(Clark) had a good slider, we just couldn’t adjust to it,” Elon freshman third baseman Nick Zammarelli said. “He didn’t really have an overpowering fastball. It was just something we didn’t adjust to, and it made him feel more comfortable on the mound.”
Elon head coach Mike Kennedy echoed that, as his team lost the weekend opener for the first time.
“We had a few opportunities to get something going, and we never adjusted,” Kennedy said. “The guy pitched well, you can’t discredit that. But we kind of had an idea of what he was doing in [the dugout]. With all the charts that we keep, we know exactly what he was doing. But when we got up [to the plate], we kind of got in between. We never got into a groove.”
UNCG struck first with a single to center by junior infielder Jordan McDonald. The Spartans added two more in the sixth when junior outfielder Eric Kabfleisch and McDonald singled in runs. With the bases loaded in the seventh, Kabfleisch hit a sacrifice fly and junior infielder Hunter King singled in a run to put UNCG up 4-0.
In the sixth, Elon junior starter Lucas Bakker was forced to exit the game when a liner by McDonald deflected off his shin. He went 5.1 innings in which he allowed three runs on seven hits with five strikeouts.
Elon’s only run came when junior left fielder Casey Jones singled in the eighth.
UNCG 12, Elon 3
Elon got off to the start it wanted to in Saturday’s game, but besides that, not much went right.
Three errors by the defense and a slew of bloop hits that fell between fielders, 14 strikeouts at the plate, and a pitching performance that was not up to par led to Elon’s demise and helped UNCG clinch the series.
“I’ve been here 18 years, and I’m trying to wrap my head around one that might have been worse than that,” Kennedy said. “I don’t know if there is one. They sensed that we weren’t playing well, and they just stepped on us and kept pushing and kept pushing.”
Elon’s first three batters singled to begin the game, the latter being one that brought in a run by Jones. Two hitters later, junior outfielder Ryan Cooper recorded an RBI groundout.
But UNCG answered with three in the bottom half of the inning to take the lead. Senior third baseman Sean Guite doubled in a run, and both King and McDonald singled in runs.
“We didn’t play well at all,” Cooper said. “We have to find a way to get up early and keep it going, sustain innings.”
Freshman Matt Harris started in place of normal Saturday starter Michael Elefante, but lasted just 2+ innings. He exited in the third after an RBI single, allowing six runs (four earned) on nine hits.
Elefante entered in relief, and the first pitch he threw got past sophomore catcher Danny Lynch for a passed ball that allowed a run to score. Another passed ball later in the inning let another run in.
Elefante worked five innings, surrendering five runs on six hits.
“It was a flip of roles there with him and Harris,” Kennedy said. “We couldn’t get the ball down.”
The worst of the worst came in the eighth inning with UNCG already up 8-3. Some blunders, including an error and a couple fly balls landing between Elon fielders, let the Spartans score four runs. Guite and McDonald each singled runs in, and King had a 2-RBI double to right.
“We played bad defense today,” right fielder Quinn Bower said. “We played poorly. We have to play a lot better if we want to win not just tomorrow, but the rest of the games we have. That was bad defense.”
At the plate, Elon struck out 14 times. The UNCG leadoff hitter reached base in seven of eight innings.
“We just didn’t play well in every phase,” Kennedy said. “Usually, we’re pretty good at one, but today, I don’t think we were really good at any of them.”
Elon hasn’t been swept all season, and the last time it was swept in SoCon play was in 2010 to The Citadel. The Phoenix will look to avoid that at 1 p.m. Sunday.
“We don’t get swept. Elon doesn’t get swept. It doesn’t happen,” Bower said.