The long meetings in right field after the final out have been common occurrences during Mike Kennedy’s tenure as Elon University baseball coach, a sign of frustrations, shortcomings and most importantly, a loss.
It’s surprising there was one this early in the season, so surprising that it signified a spot in the record books that probably wasn’t too pleasing to the coach in his 20th year leading his alma mater.
Two losses in a Feb. 20 doubleheader against Wright State University sent Elon to an 0-3 start, its worst beginning to a season since 1983. For perspective, Kennedy was in middle school that year.
It only got worse the next day, when the Phoenix fell 11-2 to the Raiders, matching the 0-4 start from 33 years ago.
At the front of the problem was pitching, with Elon’s starters surrendering 25 runs, 21 hits and 16 walks in just 15 and two-thirds innings.
No starter threw more than five innings, with junior left-hander Jordan Barrett lasting the longest at four and two-thirds in a 9-7 loss that opened the season. Junior Nick Beaulac was rocked for 10 runs (seven earned) in four-plus innings, and junior Matt Harris allowed seven in four innings.
Freshman Mason Daniels went three innings on Sunday, allowing five runs on three hits with five walks.
There were some missed opportunities at the plate, too, but the pitching struggles overshadowed those by far.
“I think the biggest thing is how disappointed we are in our starting pitching,” Kennedy said, “and we didn’t see it coming because we’ve been throwing really well in preseason and intersquad games. Those three guys have competed really well and have thrown the ball very well. My concern is maybe we had too much adrenaline and too much excitement that we got away from what we are and started elevating some balls.
“Overall, our starting pitching didn’t give us a chance in the first three games. We definitely have to get better there.”
Elon’s pitchers walked 13 batters and hit six in Saturday’s doubleheader alone. The Phoenix allowed 43 total runs during the four-game series and threw six wild pitches.
Aside from a two-hit, five-inning shutout performance in relief by junior pitcher Derek Pike, there wasn’t much to like from the pitching staff on opening weekend.
From an offensive perspective, Elon’s outputs of seven and 11 runs in the first two games were encouraging.
At the height of that was junior transfer outfielder Kyle Jackson, who belted three home runs in the first game of the doubleheader, driving in seven runs. He was 7-for-16 in the series with two doubles and three walks.
Senior infielder Danny Lynch was 5-for-14 with a home run and four RBI, and junior infielder Nick Zammarelli had three doubles and three RBI.
The lone complaint, though, was a handful of missed opportunities.
The first was in the fifth inning Friday, when Elon had the bases loaded and one out. Then freshman right fielder Liam O’Regan and senior first baseman Tyler McVicar struck out to end the inning.
In Saturday’s first game, Elon had the bases loaded and one out with the game tied in the bottom of the ninth. Then O’Regan struck out, and junior outfielder Jamal Clarke hit into a fielder’s choice. The Phoenix lost in 10 innings.
“A few at-bats … we weren’t finishing them out,” said junior first baseman Will Nance. “We were letting pitchers beat us. Not being good with two strikes, that inning where we had the bases loaded and one out — mistakes like that, we can’t make.”
The concerns are evident, and they’ve been expressed. But according to Jackson, it’s too early to be worried.
“We’re not getting down,” he said. “The first two of the season were tough losses. It’d be a big difference if we came out and they beat us 10-2 in the first two. It’d be a different feeling.”
Kennedy didn’t waver in his confidence, either. Elon’s pitching staff is still without senior Michael Elefante (elbow) and sophomore Robbie Welhaf (stress fracture). They’re expected back by early March.
Until then, it’s up to pitchers like Barrett, Harris and Beaulac to improve and carry the Phoenix.
“I hope that we’re a little more mature that we don’t get [down on ourselves],” Kennedy said. “It’s too early, and there are too many broken pieces of our puzzle that we have to get back in there and get back together. We’ll do that. It’s not an excuse for not executing pitches and not getting the ball in play here and there.
“I like this club. If we’re going to pitch like that, I won’t like them long. I think those guys are all capable, and I think they’re going to have much better outings than what we saw [Saturday].”