The 2022 Colonial Athletic Association co-rookie of the year sophomore left-handed pitcher Shea Sprague stepped onto the mound of the Elon University baseball team’s Opening Day with immense confidence. Sprague would go on to pitch a strong 79 pitches over six innings, giving up zero runs and leading the team to a 2-0 win against the University of Kentucky.
Sprague said he has been looking forward to getting on the mound for awhile, and was pleased with his performance today.
“I've definitely had this date circled for a while now,” Sprague said. “Just leading up to it I was growing and growing, throwing well, and then came out today and did my thing, got the win and it was awesome.”
Head coach Mike Kennedy said he was ecstatic to see his team back on the field of Latham Park again.
“You wait a long time to play a different colored uniform, and to come out and play that well,” Kennedy said. “I know our guys are fired up and obviously we’re fired up, there's nothing like opening day. I don't care what level you play, little league, high school, college, there's nothing like it and these guys have been chomping at the bit to play.”
After giving up an initial walk against the first batter he faced, Sprague went on to pitch hard to Kentucky’s redshirt freshman infielder James McCoy, forcing him to ground into a double-play, the first of two Sprague gained on the night. Sprague said he credits the defense behind him for turning quick plays.
“Well I'm just out here trying to get outs as quick as I can, trust my defense behind me to make a bunch of plays,” Sprague said.
And quick he did, as the final time for the game was two hours and 19 minutes. Kennedy credited the pitching staff for the fast-pace that occurred.
“Two hour and 20 minute game, we'll take that every time,” Kennedy said. “But Shea was outstanding and I don't wanna jinx him but that's what we've seen out of him. He's been really really good since he's been here, freshman of year in the league last year. Went out there and threw up a bunch of zeros.”
Offensively, the Phoenix started the bottom of the first with two runners on, but ended up leaving them both stranded. Production did not occur until redshirt junior second baseman Tanner Holliman stepped up to bat, his first ever at-bat playing for Elon. In the top of the second, Holliman absolutely cranked a homerun to left center field, starting off his career with a bang. Kennedy said getting on the board early was key to the Phoenix’s success.
“You want to get a lead, there's no question,” Kennedy said. “You don't want to play from behind. For him to get that early homerun just made everybody a little bit more comfortable in the dugout.”
In the bottom of the third, sophomore left fielder Charlie Granatell singled up the middle, followed by fifth year designated hitter Luke Stephenson being hit by pitch. Junior first baseman Cole Reynolds stepped up to the plate and hit a laser splitting the third baseman and shortstop, allowing Granatell to score the second run of the game.
In his six innings, Sprague not only posted three strikeouts, but also picked off two runners on base. He said making those plays help give him extra confidence in his outing.
“It's definitely a jolt of energy on the mound when you turn a double play to end the inning or pick a dude off in a big situation,” Sprague said. “Get an easy out, so it definitely goes a long way.”
Sprague was taken out in the top of the seventh to an ovation from his teammates in the dugout. Redshirt junior left-handed pitcher Liam Dabagian was tasked to get the job done. Dabagian posted nothing but zeros, three up and three down over the two innings he pitched.
Junior right-handed pitcher Ben Simon was given the ball to complete the save, and after striking out the side, it's safe to say he got the job done. Sprague was proud of the play from all sides of the ball.
“I know everybody behind me has got a lot of confidence in me, I’ve definitely got a lot of confidence in myself,” Sprague said. “We went out there and played a complete ball game on all sides, a couple of early runs, and then played good defense and pitched it well to end the game, and got the win that's all that matters.”
The Phoenix are set to play Kentucky again at 2 p.m. Feb. 18 and 1 p.m. Feb. 19. Sprague said he’s looking forward to watching the games play out.
“Job’s not done,” Sprague said. “Gotta win the weekend.”