Three days after surrendering seven first-inning runs against Wake Forest, the Elon University baseball team scored seven of its own in the first inning against the University of Delaware on Friday in a 12-2 victory.
Back-to-back home runs by junior center fielder Justin Cassella and junior designated hitter Connor Offshack highlighted Elon’s dominant opening inning. Cassella hit his second grand slam of the season to put Elon ahead 6-1 and Offshack followed with a solo home run two pitches later to put the Phoenix up 7-1.
After Cassella’s grand slam, Offshack said he stepped up to the plate thinking about going back-to-back on home runs.
“It’s always in the back of your mind,” Offshack said. “I was trying to hit a line drive up the middle and put a good swing on it and a good thing happened.”
Elon hits three home runs against the Blue Hens, as graduate student catcher Luke Stephenson added a two-run shot in the sixth. The Phoenix has now scored double-digit runs in five of its last six games. Over that stretch, Elon has totaled 68 runs, 62 hits and 10 home runs.
Cassella also hit a grand slam in Elon’s 14-6 win against North Carolina State University last week. The junior’s .309 batting average is the second best on the team among players with more than six at-bats and his 14 RBI are tied for fourth most on the team.
Head coach Mike Kennedy said the biggest thing for Cassella going forward is becoming more consistent at the plate.
“He’s streaky. I think he could be one of the best players in the country because his abilities are out of this world,” Kennedy said. “We love him when he’s in that good place. He has a great history of hitting left handers. He gives us a lot of options offensively when he’s in a good place.”
Kennedy attributes the strong offensive showing in recent games to the team’s hitting depth.
“You don’t score that many runs without guys up and down coming through for you,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got a number of guys who’ve been able to pick us up on different occasions.”
The Phoenix turned to its ace pitcher, sophomore Shea Sprague, on Friday. However, Sprague suffered an early shock to his system, as Delaware hit his second pitch of the game out of the park.
After the early Delaware run, Sprague settled in, as he allowed just one more run in his six innings of work. Cassella said he was impressed with Sprague’s response after the lead-off home run.
“The kid doesn’t let up,” Cassella said. “He’s a really good guy to have around the team.”
Kennedy said Sprague, who improved to 4-0 on the season as a starter with the victory, did not have best on Friday but after Elon scored seven runs in the first, the team was confident in its position.
“Anytime he pitches, it doesn’t matter what the score is, we feel like he’s going to keep us right there,” Kennedy said. “If we do score a bunch with him, it’s like let’s go take care of business here and try to finish this.”
Even with a sizable lead and Sprague on the mound, Offshack said Elon had to maintain its focus the rest of the game to not let the Blue Hens back in.
“It’s always good getting that big lead in the first inning but after that, you just want to keep adding on runs and not become complacent,” Offshack said.
While the Phoenix has won five of its last six games, the loss was by a 20-0 score against Wake Forest. Kennedy said the team did not dwell on the lopsided loss and was pleased with how well the team started.
“We really wanted to see as a coaching staff what kind of response we would have,” Kennedy said. “We responded well.”
After dropping its first Colonial Athletic Association contest of the season, the Phoenix has now won its last six conference games. Cassella said Elon has been more disciplined at the plate in recent games which has helped lead to the hot start in CAA play.
“As a team, we’ve been chasing the slider and a lot of off-speed pitches,” Cassella said. “The biggest thing has been having the composure to stay back on those pitches and take some.”
Elon, now 14-8 overall on the season, will face Delaware tomorrow and Sunday to round out the weekend series.