Head baseball coach Mike Kennedy could be seen from the stands at Latham Park speaking very emotionally to his team following Elon University’s loss to East Carolina University March 16.
The Phoenix gave up 11 runs and blew an 8-7 lead at the top of the ninth inning — its first and only lead of the series.
The loss was the team’s fifth in as many games, falling to East Carolina, Wake Forest University and The Citadel.
“We just have to play better,” Kennedy said after the March 16 loss. “If we’re expecting to win games, we’re going to have to play better across the board. We’re not going to win unless we start playing better — that’s the bottom line.”
Offense hasn’t been a problem for the Phoenix as it has scored 125 runs already. Though Elon has not entered conference play yet, it leads the Colonial Athletic Association teams in batting with the highest team batting average, hits and runs.
Senior catcher Chris King and sophomore utility player Nick Zammarelli rank in the top two in the CAA in RBI with 23 and 21, respectively. Senior outfielder Quinn Bower and senior infielder Casey Jones rank in the top three in runs scored, while junior utility player Joey Tomko is second in the CAA with a .424 batting average.
The problem, as Kennedy has mentioned frequently throughout Elon’s recent games, is pitching.
The Phoenix has a team ERA of 7.62, giving up 208 hits thus far with 127 earned runs. Defensively, Elon has accumulated 28 errors from the field as well.
Against East Carolina March 20, four Elon pitchers were responsible for five wild pitches and hit three Pirate batters in the process.
“All you have to do is look at our numbers,” Kennedy said. “We’re down some arms, and we have guys taking roles that they probably shouldn’t be and probably aren’t ready for. But when you’re down a couple arms, that’s what happens.”
Elon is missing two of its players — sophomore pticher Dimitri Lettas is recorvering from elbow surgery and junior pitcher Brandon Kacer hasn’t thrown in nearly six months. Both men are officially out for the remainder of this season and have forced Kennedy to utilize various players for their reliever role.
Currently, senior pitcher Jake Stalzer and junior pitcher Tyler Menez remain as Elon’s only healthy left-handed throwers to choose from.
The Phoenix has used a number of its pitchers as a result and, at one point, even put All-American first baseman Casey Jones on the mound out of desperation during Elon’s 25-12 loss against Wake Forest March 10.
“I made some good pitches, and I made some bad pitches,” Jones said after pitching for the only time this season. “But that’s not really my thing.”
In that game, Elon used six pitchers — all of whom gave up more than three runs in the process with the exception of sophomore pitcher Mike Krill, who came in at the end of the game.
Dissatisfaction was obvious in the silence of the team following the Saturday loss against East Carolina after Kennedy spoke to them in right field.
Zammarelli didn’t have much to say regarding the team’s performance after the loss.
“It’s not really frustrating,” he said about getting no pitching support. “We know we’re going to hit, and we know the pitchers are going to do their job, so in the end it all equals out.”
Kennedy had a different opinion.
“I hope that it’s frustrating to the whole team,” Kennedy said. “I hope we’re frustrated offensively, I hope we’re frustrated on the mound, but we have to do more than just swing the bat and they have to buy into how important it is to play good defensive ball.”
With the irritation mounting, it’s easy for the team to lose optimism. Senior outfielder Ryan Cooper said the team needs to keep playing and not worry about the losses and how little support the team is getting from the pitching.
Cooper had one of the best games of his career against East Carolina, driving in three runs on three hits with a three-run home run in the bottom of the eighth to give Elon the lead heading into the ninth.
“We just have to stay together as a team and keep fighting,” Cooper said. “That’s all we can do. We have to win games — we’re not trying to see how many runs we can score — that’s what it comes down to.”
The team was quiet in the dugout during Saturday’s game, but Cooper said it should be louder to keep the morale up throughout the game.
“We have to stay up in the dugout,” Cooper said. “We just have to stay together.”
The Phoenix is two days away from its first CAA series against James Madison University at Latham Park. If Elon can muster a more solid pitching performance before then, the Phoenix could quickly put the struggles it has faced in the beginning of the season behind.
Kennedy said the imminence of conference play is what the team is looking towards to put its non conference losses in the rearview mirror.
“We’re going to try to figure out the best group to help us win the league and compete in the CAA,” he said. “That will be the goal going into next weekend.”