A skid that has now become seven losses in nine games has driven the term “crunch time” to a whole new level for the Elon University baseball team.

The ladder of those losses, a 7-5 shortcoming to Davidson College May 4, illustrated how tough the stretch has been for Elon.

“It’s frustrating,” junior left fielder Casey Jones said. “I really can’t describe it right now. We haven’t been this bad in a long time.”Davidson baseball3

Elon is 12-12 and in fifth place in the Southern Conference, one game behind Georgia Southern University. To earn a bye past the first round of the SoCon Tournament, Elon needs to be in the top six.

With just three SoCon games remaining — a road series at Furman University May 9-11 — the need to improve and improve quickly rests upon the team’s shoulders.

“More than anything, we need to play well to get some confidence,” Elon head coach Mike Kennedy said. “We need some confidence so we can start feeling a little better about ourselves. The way we’re playing right now, we’re not going to go in and win the tournament, we know that.”

Davidson is 17-5 in the league, and is now in second place behind Western Carolina University (16-4). Kennedy called the Wildcats the best team Elon has played in the league up to this point.

The Phoenix won the series opener 8-5 to end a four-game losing streak, but lost 9-2 in the second game of the series.

“I thought we played better today,” Kennedy said. “We didn’t do some things early in the game that cost us, but we did play a little bit better. We didn’t roll over like I thought we did (Saturday).”

It was that roll-over mentality that led to a gloomy atmosphere in the dugout Saturday during the 9-2 loss. But Elon didn’t do that in the series finale. Down 7-1 in the sixth, junior center fielder Ryan Cooper hit a sacrifice fly and junior designated hitter Chris King had a pinch-hit, two-out, 2-RBI double to the corner in left that scored two and brought the Phoenix within three.

King led off the ninth with a solo home run and Elon was down just 7-5. Junior second baseman Wil Leathers then walked, and Elon brought the tying run to the plate three times. But two pop outs and a strikeout from Jones, Elon’s best hitter at a .407 clip, ended the game.

“I wanted to come up big in that situation and help the team,” Jones said. “I didn’t come through, so I was pretty frustrated about it.”

UNC baseball1But that spark to come back showed signs to both Jones and senior relief pitcher Ryan Pennell. Pennell, normally Elon’s closer, pitched three scoreless innings at the ladder end of the game.

“We’re close every time,” Pennell said. “If we weren’t in those situations at all, we’d be in big trouble. It’s really close to just clicking.”

Davidson went up 2-0 in the first on a double by Forrest Brandt and an Elon error. The Phoenix answered when Jones tripled home a run in the bottom of the first, but Davidson came back with one run in each of the third, fourth and fifth innings before getting two in the sixth.

Junior Jake Stalzer gets hit with the loss after allowing seven runs (five earned) in five innings.

"It's like 'do-or-die' time at this point," Pennell said. "We put ourselves in a hole. We have to play this last weekend well to get the best seed we can in the conference."

Elon will look to bounce back against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 7 at Latham Park. The Phoenix had the Tar Heels on the ropes April 16 in Chapel Hill before losing 5-4 after surrendering three runs in the ninth inning.