The Elon University baseball team left with unfinished business against Southeastern Conference opponent University of Kentucky in the second game of the three game weekend series Saturday, losing 5-1.
After being shutout 2-0 by the Phoenix on Feb. 17, Kentucky wasted no time ending the drought, as sophomore left fielder Ryan Waldschmidt smashed a lead off double off the left field fence. One strikeout later, the Wildcat’s redshirt sophomore designated hitter Devin Burkes poked a grounder up the middle, fumbled by Elon redshirt sophomore shortstop Will Vergatino, allowing Waldschmidt to advance to third and Burkes to reach safely. The next at-bat, Kentucky’s head coach Nick Mingione signaled for cleanup hitter sophomore second baseman Emilien Pitre to lay down the sacrifice bunt, scoring its first run of the 2023 season.
“They loved to bunt and pressure you in that way,” head coach Mike Kennedy said. “They do that very well.”
Once freshman starting right-handed pitcher Justin Mitrovich finally settled into the first appearance of his collegiate career, Kentucky found out why he was named Colonial Athletic Association preseason freshman of the year by Perfect Game. After allowing one run in the first, he said he settled down and found his groove, striking out seven over the next three and two-thirds innings.
“I was confident the whole time,” Mitrovich said. “A little jitters being my first start, but after the double I settled down and kept executing pitches. Went to the next inning feeling confident and had to put a zero on the board.”
By the top of the fifth, Elon had yet to get a man on base, and the Wildcats top of the order delivered once again. With two outs, the leadoff man Waldschmidt walked, followed by a single to right by redshirt freshman right fielder James McCoy, in which he reached third. With 78 pitches, Kennedy had seen enough from his freshman starter, bringing in redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Joe Savino. Savino entered the situation with runners on the corners with two outs, until McCoy stole second. Burkes singled up the middle, scoring both, putting Kentucky up 3-0.
Junior first baseman Cole Reynolds broke Kentucky graduate student left-handed pitcher Tyler Bosma’s perfect game in the bottom of the fifth with a single to right field but watched the next batter ground out to second, unable to capitalize on the lone baserunner. The Elon offense on the day struggled heavily, only getting three hits all game.
The Wildcats tacked on two more in the ninth off of Elon junior right-handed pitcher Ethan Haislip, but Elon would not go down without a fight.
Sophomore center fielder Kenny Mallory Jr. walked, followed by a double down the left field line by sophomore left fielder Charlie Granatell. With Mallory Jr. advancing to third, fifth year designated hitter Luke Stephenson hit a sacrifice fly to center field, allowing Mallory Jr. to score. Redshirt junior second baseman Tanner Holliman ended the game with a swinging strike out, the final score of 5-1.
The weekend series between the Wildcats and the Phoenix sits at 1-1 heading into the finale at 1 p.m. Feb. 19.
“One goal: Try to win the weekend,” Kennedy said.