For the second time this season, the Elon University baseball team completed a comeback victory over a top-10 opponent at Latham Park. After redshirt junior second baseman Tanner Holliman committed an error in the top of the fifth inning, it was only right that his late-game heroics would fuel the Phoenix to a 6-5 victory over the No. 9 Campbell University Fighting Camels.
The win marked the first time since 2015 in which the Phoenix defeated two ranked opponents in one season. It previously did so defeating No. 22 UNC Wilmington in the 2015 season.
The Phoenix have only won four of its last 10 matchups since its upset win over No. 2 Wake Forest University April 2.
“This is a big win,” head coach Mike Kennedy said. “We’ve been struggling a little bit so it’s good to get one of this magnitude, a top 10 team in the country."
With Elon’s win and Campbell’s loss to No. 20 Duke University last night, it marked Campbell’s first back-to-back regular-season losses since March of last year.
The night started off with Campbell’s leadoff hitter, Jarrod Belbin, slamming a homer to center in the very first at-bat of graduate student Joe Sprake’s start. The Phoenix couldn’t find much success in the first inning, however, in just his third start of the year, redshirt junior designated hitter Willie Havens hit an RBI double to tie the score at one apiece.
It appeared the Phoenix were beginning to find its footing at the bottom of the third, as junior first baseman Cole Reynolds sent a homer to left field, giving Elon a 2-1 lead. However, Elon would not lead again until late in the eighth inning. The Fighting Camels quickly answered back thanks to a homerun of its own, knotting the game at 2-2.
A wild pitch from the Fighting Camels in the fifth allowed Havens to briefly put Elon ahead 3-2, before Campbell went on a dominant scoring run at the top of the sixth inning. The Fighting Camels used a multitude of singles and took advantage of shaky Elon pitching from juniors Ben Sieracki and Ben Simon to boost its lead back up to 5-3. The four singles were courtesy of Drew Winters, Logan Jordan, Dalen Thompson, and Belbin.
With fifth year catcher Luke Stephenson on base due to a walk in the bottom of the eighth, Holliman sent a homer to left-center, tying the score at 5-5. Holliman committed an error earlier in the game but bounced back when his team needed him to.
“It was a frustrating way to start the day,” Holliman said. “I mean two punch-outs and then an error, so you really get frustrated. So I was just trying to pass the bat, really win some, win some A-Bs, and fight throughout the end of the game.”
The home run marked Holliman’s tenth of the season, tied with junior center fielder Justin Cassella, as the team home run leaders. Kennedy said he wasn’t surprised to see Holliman overcome the early struggles he faced in the game.
“He’s got a ton of juice in that bat,” Kennedy said.
In the same frame, freshman Ryan Sprock pinch hit with the bases loaded, drawing a walk, which pushed redshirt sophomore Will Vergantino home to score the final run of the night capping off Elon’s 6-5 come-from-behind victory.
Kennedy said he was impressed by sophomore Sam DiLella’s late-game pitching after recent struggles. Tonight was the first time DiLella pitched multiple innings giving up no hits, runs or walks. He also poured in three strikeouts to help push the Phoenix to victory.
Kennedy said this is the beginning of a difficult and important five-game stretch.
“It’s a huge weekend for both of us,” Kennedy said. “We’re both fighting like crazy to stay in the top half of this league.”
Elon looks towards this weekend as they will head south to Charleston. for a weekend series against the College of Charleston Cougars beginning April 28 at 6 p.m. The Phoenix will also have a chance to earn the home-and-home series sweep against Campbell May 3 in Buies Creek.
“They’ll be ready,” Kennedy said.