Head coach Mike Kennedy said he was extremely disappointed with the way the team played.
“We played terrible,” Kennedy said. “We started the game just like we finished it. We got what we deserved.”
Junior left-handed pitcher Cole Reynolds got the start for the Phoenix, coming off of a great outing at Gardner-Webb University Feb. 21, picking up the win over five innings, five hits and one run.
Reynolds got into trouble early when an error by redshirt junior third baseman Connor Coolahan allowed UNCG’s leadoff man, senior center fielder Daniel Cerda, to reach — the first of three errors for the Phoenix.
Kennedy said the team needs to collectively clean up its defensive front.
“Coming out of the preseason, I thought we were going to be a good defensive club, but we’re completely the opposite of that right now,” Kennedy said. “We've got to get better defensively. We take a lot of pressure off of ourselves if we can make plays and get the outs we’re supposed to get, but we're not doing that right now.”
After an infield single by UNCG sophomore left fielder Kennedy Jones, redshirt junior third baseman Mitchell Smith would double down the left field line, scoring Cerda easily. A fielder’s choice groundout scored Jones, putting UNCG up 2-0. Reynolds walked the next two batters but would end his shaky inning with a double play.
“He's got to get some energy,” Kennedy said. “If he got some energy, I think he’ll be OK. He walked three guys in five innings, he had some untimely walks, and we didn't make a couple plays behind him.”
The bats began silent for the Phoenix, leaving a runner on in both the bottom of the first and second. In the bottom of the third, the team was brought to life with an RBI single by junior left fielder Connor Offshack.
Kennedy said he’s been impressed with the at-bats strung together by Offshack last weekend and today.
“He's in a good place, and he's swinging the bat good,” Kennedy said. “He's got a really good swing and he knows that, we've told him that since he walked on this campus.”
Fifth year designated hitter Luke Stephenson followed that up with a two RBI single, putting the Phoenix up 3-2. After his single, Stephenson continued his aggressiveness by stealing second — the second stolen bag of what would eventually become four, which Kennedy said is a big part of the team’s game.
“We have several guys that can run at the right time and the right counts,” Kennedy said. “When we've got some breaking ball counts and things of that nature we feel like we have a great chance to steal bases.”
With seemingly new life inside of him, Reynolds earned three quick outs in the top of the fourth, but he allowed one run in the fifth off of an RBI double by junior right fielder Dosi Jonas. Reynolds left the game with it tied 3-3, hoping for the offense to pick up the victory.
“He got back in the strike zone. He walked a few more guys than he normally does, but he hung in there and he gave us a chance,” Kennedy said.
In the top of the sixth, sophomore right-handed pitcher Sam DiLella was given the task of relieving Reynolds, but a costly walk to junior first baseman GC Jarman would haunt him, scoring off of a double by designated hitter Caleb Cozart and bringing the score to 4-3 in favor of UNCG.
Redshirt junior right-handed pitcher Spencer Bauer would come in for two innings of work in the top of the seventh. Getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh and picking up three strikeouts in the eighth meant all eyes on the offense in the bottom of the frame.
Similar to the 8-3 victory over the University of Akron Feb. 26, Offshack began the bottom of the eighth inning with a laser to left center field, picking up his second home run in as many games, evening the score 4-4.
“I'm just looking for a good pitch and putting a good swing on it and just letting the bat take care of it,” Offshack said.
The inning continued to roll with a single from sophomore center fielder Kenny Mallory Jr., who would immediately set his sights on stealing second base, the second of the night for him. Three walks later by Reynolds, redshirt sophomore shortstop Will Vergantino and Coolahan, Mallory Jr. would find himself walking all the way home, putting the Phoenix on top 5-4.
The top of the ninth meant three outs away for junior right-handed pitcher Ben Simon, who already has two saves on the season. The first-pitch fastball ended up crushed over the left field fence by Smith, bringing the tie to 5-5.
“We got a one run lead and we've got a guy that throws a ton of fastballs, so we served up a fastball right out of the gate which we probably shouldn't have done to their No. 1 power hitter,” Kennedy said. “We could’ve easily spun something and just disrupted a little bit of timing, but we didn't do that.”
A batter later, Jonas would strike again, another home run to left field, giving the edge to the Spartans 6-5.
Simon would strikeout junior catcher Bradley Bott, but trouble was far from over as a triple and a walk only increased the pressure on Simon. The next batter, redshirt freshman pinch hitter Luke Jenkins, would strikeout, but again, trouble was far from over. The game took a turn for the worse for the Phoenix when Mallory Jr., who shifted from center to left field, made a costly error — dropping the ball that should have ended the inning, scoring sophomore second baseman Rowan Watt and Jarman to increase the lead 8-5.
“We coached stupid in that inning, and we paid for it,” Kennedy said. “He kind of fought back a little bit and gave us a chance. We got the fly ball where we still had a shot, but we didn’t make that play.”
Flustered, Simon gave up his third home run in the inning, a two-run shot to Cerda. Graduate student right-handed pitcher Joe Sprake finished the final third of the inning, but the damage was done.
A pinch hit triple by redshirt junior Bryce Jeske was left stranded in the bottom of the ninth, giving the Phoenix the loss by a final score of 10-5. Offshack said he’s looking to erase the play today.
“It was a hard fought game, but in the end, they just put a few hits together,” Offshack said. “We lost the game, but we’re back on the saddle tomorrow and it's a new day. We can't let this get in the way of tomorrow. We've just got to stay the course and keep playing good baseball.”
The Phoenix will take on UNCG once again March 1 at 4 p.m., this time in Greensboro, looking to even the series with the Spartans.
“Tomorrow we just got to pitch the ball, we've got to field the ball, and we've to hit and just play our baseball,” Offshack said. “In the end we're a good team, and we've just got to let that take care of it.”