By the bottom of the eighth, sophomore Carey Million stood at bat and anticipated an inside pitch, but she got a low, inside changeup. She turned on the ball and hit it over the fence in left center, giving Elon University a spot in the Colonial Athletic Association Softball Tournament.
As the dugout stormed the field, head softball coach Kathy Bocock sprinted from where she was coaching at third base toward home plate to warn her players in the dugout not to step onto the field and into fair territory.
“I needed to get down the line so the girls didn’t get in the way because [the umpires] had already warned them that if they got out there again, then [the run] would have gone away,” Bocock said. “They would’ve taken the run, so I just saw it go, knew we won and had to get down there and make sure the girls didn’t get out there too soon to celebrate.”
The players slapped Million’s helmet when she crossed home, celebrating the No. 3 seed in the CAA Tournament.
After trailing 3-1 at the bottom of the seventh with the bottom of the order due up, Elon defeated the University of North Carolina at Wilmington on the final day of the regular season, seized a third place finish in the CAA and secured one of four spots in the tournament.
Senior third baseman Aly Quintana hit a deep fly ball to left center in the bottom of the seventh with a runner on first base. As UNCW left fielder Brittanne Gasser dashed to the ball and approached the warning track, it appeared she could have had a play on the ball. As the ball went deeper, it continued to fly and found its way over the fence.
Though the Phoenix couldn’t get the game-winning run across home plate in the seventh, it carried the momentum going into extras. Million notched the victory and secured Elon’s No. 3 seed with nobody on and one away in the bottom of the eighth.
“I was looking for an inside pitch to turn on, and that was the best one,” Million said. “I waited on the changeup and it went out. I wasn’t expecting a changeup, but I kind of saw it well and went with it.” While the offensive outbursts from Quintana and Million were the highlights of the game, the pitching staff also excelled.
Perhaps Elon’s biggest pitching asset is junior Kayla Caruso. She earned wins in each of the three final home games against UNCW and finished the season 12-4 with a 3.23 ERA. She looks forward to the remainder of the season and hopefully generating some noise in the CAA Tournament.
“This is exactly what we needed was a sweep, and we got the sweep,” Caruso said. “And going into the tournament, we have confidence, we’re happy, we’re loving the game and it’s what you want.”
Despite Caruso’s performance over the weekend, the odds were not in favor of the softball team securing one of the four available spots in the CAA Tournament.
The Phoenix was predicted in the preseason poll to finish sixth of eight teams in the CAA because the roster featured a group of young starters competing in a more difficult conference.
But the strong group of seniors willing to accept the group of underclassmen regularly inserted into the starting lineup helped unite the Phoenix.
“I thank them a lot for their leadership because they came in as seniors, and there’s a young group out there that they embraced,” Bocock said. “And by them embracing them and not being jealous and all that stuff, it was huge for them. Everything that they did and the support they did for these young kids is a huge reason why we’ve been successful this year.”
Elon began the season 17-6 entering CAA play but lost four of its next five games.
Later in the season, the Phoenix lost seven of eight, including losses to Hofstra University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and James Madison University. Despite the obstacles, Elon remained devoted in the circle and in the batter’s box.
Senior pitchers Caitlin O’Shea and Chelsea White have ERAs of 2.32 and 3.21, respectively. In nearly 100 innings of combined work this season, they have limited their opponents to 39 earned runs.
Sophomore Alli Burdette and freshman Kiandra Mitchum are the other main pitchers. While Burdette works mostly out of the pen, Mitchum starts. In her debut season at Elon, Mitchum has a 3.71 ERA with an 8-9 record. Burdette has pitched 27 total innings this season but has provided depth when called upon.
The offense has been another strong suit this season for the Phoenix. Each of Elon’s three lead-off hitters has at least a .338 batting average and a .390 on-base percentage. Freshman Hannah Olson typically hits first and is followed by sophomore Alaina Hall and freshman Kara Shutt.
Olson has a knock for reaching base. She has the lowest strikeout percentage on the team and is almost guaranteed to put the ball in play.
Hall leads the team in batting average at .360.
Shutt is one of the most powerful hitters on the team. She is the team leader in extra base hits with 19 and has hit 13 doubles, three triples and three home runs.
Today matters most for the Phoenix. At 3 p.m., Elon plays Hofstra in the opening round of the CAA Tournament.
Elon has a bit of an easier journey in the first round since it will not play against James Madison.
James Madison routed Elon 9-1, 9-0 and 8-0 in its three-game home series April 25-26. In the final game of the series, the Phoenix failed to record a single hit. The Dukes finished the regular season first in the CAA by a landslide. They are 44-6 (19-0 CAA), have a 35-game winning streak and are ranked 19th in the country.
With a win today against Hofstra, Elon will compete against the winner of the James Madison-Towson game Thursday at noon. Should the Phoenix win that contest, it will advance to the championship game scheduled for Friday at noon.
With a loss, Elon will play the loser of the James Madison-Towson game at 2:30 p.m. Thursday. If the Phoenix loses twice in a row, its season will come to an end.
2015 has been a landmark year for the softball team. With new players peaking at the right time and routine starters performing at their best, Elon approaches the tournament with full confidence.
“[Our players] know that they can beat Towson and Hofstra,” Bocock said. “And, you know, they actually had some good innings against JMU … We’re just gonna go up there and play like we do and just give it our best.”