Two unlikely heroes rescued the Elon University baseball team’s weekend from falling into the ground.
A pair of infielders, senior Danny Lynch and freshman Ryne Ogren, provided the necessary sparks that led to two victories against The Citadel, bringing the Phoenix to .500 for the first time this season.
Elon lost 13-8 to the Bulldogs on March 11 in poor fashion — the Phoenix handed the game away. Two costly errors and three bases-loaded walks were at the height of that.
Then, Lynch’s vanquishing home run and Ogren’s slump-busting RBI single and subsequent grand slam rejuvenated Elon.
The Phoenix won the last two games of the series 5-3 and 8-3, improving its record to 8-8 with Colonial Athletic Association play starting this weekend.
“Getting to .500 and you’ve got conference play coming up, learning how to win weekends is very important for us, so that was really big,” said head coach Mike Kennedy. “Those are things you’re trying to teach your guys: ‘Hey, every pitch matters. Every at-bat matters.’ Something like that can get it going.
“Ogren’s been struggling, so we sat him, he gets a pinch-hit hit, and now he feels a little better. [This game], he gets a great 2-0 pitch and puts a good swing on it. Those are good things you want to have happen moving forward as you’re getting ready to start conference play.”
Lynch, who’s one of the quieter players on team, showed perhaps more emotion March 12 than he has the last three years combined. His solo home run provided the go-ahead run, and, yes, it was heard loud and clear.
He took a 2-1 fastball far above the belt and crushed it over the right field fence to start the eighth inning. He said, “The ball looked huge to me.”
When he met his teammates at home plate, he delivered some forceful high-fives. After the game, he flashed a wide grin while signing a baseball for a young fan.
“That was a good time,” Lynch said of the celebration. “This year I’ve had three, and that’s the most home runs I’ve hit my whole career. It’s kind of exciting. I was just trying to enjoy the moment and take it all in, because then I have to go back and play defense. I try to get it all out of me.”
Then there’s Ogren, the slumping middle infielder who hasn’t shown much power, or really much of anything lately. That’s why Kennedy decided to bench him March 12.
Call it redemption, then.
With one out and a runner on second, The Citadel brought in a left-handed pitcher. Sophomore infielder Brett Guba, who’s struggled against lefties, was up to bat.
So Kennedy decided to pinch-hit Ogren, who was riding an 0-for-23 streak that dated back to Feb. 26 against La Salle University.
He delivered with an RBI single up the middle to provide an insurance run.
Facing a similar situation in the eighth on March 13, he smacked a grand slam to left center. Ogren went 3-for-5 on the weekend.
“I was definitely more relaxed and had some more confidence, which is huge,” Ogren said. “It doesn’t matter if you go 0-for-23 or 1-for-1, it’s the same thing. You just gotta truck through it and keep your head high.”
It’s refreshing for Elon to have Ogren and Lynch stepping up, because there’s not much cushion behind them.
Three position players who were expected to play big roles — junior outfielder Jamal Clarke, freshman infielder Cam Devanney and freshman catcher Ty Adcock — are all out for the season with injuries. Sophomore catcher James Venuto and junior outfielder Will Nance are battling injuries, too, which leaves the Phoenix with 11 healthy position players.
That’s far from ideal. But when contributions can come from all sources in clutch moments, it means there’s a healthy balance of offensive output.
Elon will need Venuto and Nance to compete down the stretch, no question. Seeing different players step up now means the Phoenix will have a stronger, larger supporting cast than in recent years.
And now, the CAA awaits.