A thirty-minute rain delay did not discourage the Elon baseball team as they took an early lead against James Madison University (JMU) on Friday, March 31 for the Alumni Weekend series opener.
The Phoenix started the game with four RBIs in the first inning. Starting pitcher sophomore Ryan Conroy pitched five scoreless innings, struck out four and allowed only three hits.
A pitching change at the start of the sixth inning allowed the Phoenix to continue to show off the team’s young talent as freshman George Kirby took the mound. Kirby struck out a personal-best seven hitters.
“We don’t really care what grade they are in or what year they are in school, but we’ve got some good young arms," said head coach Mike Kennedy. "Some good, quality young guys that can get some guys out.”
When senior Kyle Jackson walked up to the plate for the first time this evening, the pressure was on with the bases loaded in the middle of the first inning. Jackson, who had two home runs in the previous game on Tuesday, March 28 at High Point, singled to the left side allowing freshman second baseman Joe Satterfield and sophomore shortstop Ryne Ogren to be the first runs of the night.
For Jackson, it’s about confidence. He says he's seeing the ball so well, they're starting to look like beach balls.
“[Coach Clements and I] have been working on a lot of things that obviously have really helped me,” Jackson said. “So I’m just seeing the ball well.”
But when it comes to continuing his home run average, Kennedy claims Jackson wants to get the ball beyond the fence too badly.
“He wants to hit home runs and he’s got the power to do that, but when he tries he’s not as efficient,” Kennedy said. “[They’ve] spent a lot of time in the cage trying to make him understand that you’re going to hit home runs if you just put a good swing on the ball, but you’re also going to hit for a better average and be a lot happier when you leave the ballpark.”
Shortly after Jackson’s 2 RBI single, senior outfielder Will Nance tripled to right field. His first triple of the season sent sophomore infielder James Venuto and junior outfielder Zach Evers home. At the end of the first inning, Elon led JMU 4-0. Elon added another run in the second inning after Venuto singled to left field allowing junior catcher Hayden Platt to come around and score.
After the second, both teams went the next four innings without scoring.
Kirby replaced Conroy on the mound after the fifth inning, making it clear that the underclassmen are at no disadvantage.
“Every week I go into the weekend trying to give my team the chance to win any way I could,” Conroy said. “This week wasn’t my best, but you know that’s all I got to do. Just go out there and throw up some zeros . . . and these guys will take care of the rest.”
In the bottom of the seventh, Elon’s bats were active again as Jackson returned to the plate and hit a two-run blast over the left field fence.Jackson, now responsible for half of Elon’s six home runs in the past two games, increase the Phoenix lead to 7-0.
With only two innings left, it looked like the Phoenix may have shut out the Dukes until JMU senior left fielder Ky Parrot singled to center in the ninth inning, driving in a run and finalizing what would be a 7-1 Elon victory.
“Certainly we wanted the shutout," Kennedy said. "I think all of our pitchers will tell you that. But at the end of the day, it was about getting that last out and getting that W."
This was the fourth straight win for Elon, which ties them with College of Charleston for first place in the CAA conference. The Alumni Weekend series against JMU will continue on Saturday, April 1 at 1:30 p.m. in Latham Park.