Updated as of Feb. 11, 2022 at 8:26 p.m. to include video.
“We’ve been practicing against each other for a while, so they were really hungry to start playing somebody different,” head coach Kathy Bocock said. “We came out with great energy, great support for one another. I was pleased with the energy.”
Of the seven freshmen added to the roster this season, three made major contributions in the season-opening victory.
Freshman pitcher Taylor Cherry started for Elon in her first college game. She struck out all three batters in the first inning and did not allow a hit until the third. Bocock said she was impressed with Cherry’s poise.
“Taylor did a really nice job taking early command with everything,” Bocock said. “We have a very good pitching staff. They’re really working together and they’ve just really bonded.”
It took little time for Elon’s offense to find its groove, as sophomore third baseman Gabi Schaal delivered the Phoenix’s first hit of the season after an opening walk by junior second baseman Megan Grant. After two more walks by senior center fielder Rebecca Murray and senior designated player Megan White, the Phoenix took a 1-0 lead.
With just one out in the first, another freshman made a big play for the Phoenix, as third baseman Kaitlyn Wells batted in three runs with a single in her first collegiate at-bat to put the Phoenix ahead 4-0.
The ball cleared the fence for what appeared to be a grand slam, but umpires ruled Wells passed the runner in front of her as they rounded first base, making Wells out. The three runs scored still counted.
Bocock said the fast start at the plate was important because it inspired the team and gave Elon’s younger pitchers breathing room on the scoreboard.
“We want to try to get out there early because once you do that, it really helps our confidence with our pitchers and the defense,” Bocock said.
After allowing three hits and a pair of runs in the third, Elon pulled Cherry and brought in freshman Isley Duggins, who secured the final out to win the state 3A softball championship for Southern Alamance High School in Graham last season.
Duggins entered the game with IUPUI runners on first and third bases. Needing an out to keep momentum on Elon’s side, Duggins said she felt the pressure when she arrived at the pitching mound.
“I was a little nervous,” Duggins said. “But my team continued to tell me, ‘We’ve got your back.’ That really helped me get through it.”
Duggins struck out the IUPUI batter to keep Elon’s lead at 4-2 after the top of the third. She said getting that out eased her nerves.
“I was just thinking, ‘Let’s get out of this inning without any more runs scoring,’” Duggins said. “After that, it was kind of like I thought about it as a 0-0 ball game for the rest of the time.”
The Phoenix capitalized on another scoring opportunity in the bottom of the third. After a single from Murray, she advanced to third after a steal and a wild pitch. A fielder’s choice from White drove in Murray to put Elon ahead 5-2. It would be the last run by either team, as the remaining seven half innings went scoreless.
Duggins finished the game at the mound for the Phoenix, posting four scoreless innings to help secure the win. She had six strikeouts to go along with Cherry’s seven, as the two college softball debutants combined to pitch the entire game.
Bocock said she was proud of the effort from both freshman pitchers and credited pitching coach Taylor Waldrop with balancing the talents of the team’s pitching staff.
“They did a great job,” Bocock said. “They’re two different style pitchers and our pitching coach is doing a great job with the staff and understanding, like, ‘Why were you trying to use the different style pitchers?’”
Elon will look to build on its opening day success tomorrow with a pair of games at Hunt Park. The Phoenix will play IUPUI again at 12 p.m. and will take on Saint Francis University at approximately 2:30 p.m.