LYNCHBURG, Va. — With losses and missed opportunities hanging over its heads, a thrown bat signified a possible jump back to normalcy for the Elon University baseball team.
Junior first baseman Casey Jones, the Southern Conference’s best hitter, threw his bat during an eighth-inning at-bat, sparking memories of him doing it countless times early in the season.
Early in the season when Elon was doing well, that is.
Senior Ryan Pennell worked out of two jams and the Phoenix snapped a six-game losing streak and a nine-game road losing streak with a 7-6 win at No. 21 Liberty University.
“It’s been a while,” Elon junior outfielder Ryan Cooper said. “It didn’t matter who we were playing, a win going into the [SoCon] Tournament is big for us.”
Elon hadn’t won a road game since a 12-2 triumph at Wofford College April 12. The Phoenix entered in the midst of a skid where it lost 13 of its last 16.
“It’s crazy,” Jones said. “That’s a big win. That’s a quality team, they’re Top 25. We faced some good arms, put some good swings on balls and played good defense today, too.”
It didn’t come easy, though. Elon led 7-3 in the middle of the sixth, but the Flames scored two in the sixth and one in the eighth to stay in it. Pennell, who took the loss on Sunday at Furman University, was able to bounce back with the three-inning save.
“This game was a big step in the right direction,” Pennell said. “We haven’t been throwing too well lately, myself included. I really wanted to step up for the team there.”
Cooper pulled through in the sixth with the game-changing swing. He took a 2-1 pitch for a ride to left, and it carried just enough for a grand slam that put Elon up 7-3.
“I didn’t know if it was going to go out,” Cooper said. “I was rounding first and I’m like, ‘awesome, man!’”
Elon loaded the bases in the third, fourth and fifth innings, and was able to score in each inning. Freshman third baseman Nick Zammarelli extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a 2-RBI single in the fourth.
Liberty answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning on a 2-RBI double by freshman left fielder Andrew Yacyk.
Each team scored again in the fifth, Elon on a bases loaded walk and Liberty on a solo home run off the bat of Ashton Perritt surrendered by junior Lucas Bakker, Elon’s normal Friday starter. Perritt went 4-for-4 on the day with 3 RBIs.
Liberty added two in the sixth on singles by Perritt and sophomore Dalton Britt and one in the eighth when Perritt singled in a run. Pennell set the Flames down in order in the ninth.
“They’re 38-12 for a reason,” Elon coach Mike Kennedy said. “I’ve been in on a regional committee, and they come up as one of the best in this area. Every time we scored, they scored. We just held them off in the end. Ryan was good enough to shut them down at the end for us.”
Elon wraps the regular season with a 27-25 record and will await its fate in next week’s SoCon Tournament to be played May 20-25 in Charleston, S.C.
“Early in the year and through the year, we’ve been a good team,” Cooper said. “We’ve just got to find that again, and just play to our potential. This past two weeks — it’s over. Just forget about it and play the way we know how to play.”