The Elon University softball team faced the College of Charleston Cougars in its final home series of the season at Hunt Softball Park. The Phoenix celebrated its six graduating seniors in a post-game ceremony with friends and family.
While both games of the doubleheader matchup ended in the sixth inning due to the run rule, the games were complete opposites.
For the first game, sophomore pitcher McKenna McCard started in the circle for the Phoenix and was lights out. McCard struck out the first two batters she faced and this set the tone for the rest of the game. McCard went on to strike out four more batters for a total of six strikeouts, setting her season high.
The Phoenix bats were hot to start the game off. The bases were loaded due to a walk by senior center fielder Drew Menscer, sophomore second baseman Allee Seering’s single and senior first baseman Claudia Penny reaching on a fielder’s choice. Senior catcher Carley Davis stepped into the box and cranked a single to left field and brought in two runs to start the scoring for Elon. Penny tacked on another run on a wild pitch before the inning ended to give the Phoenix an early 3-0 lead.
McCard made quick work of the Cougars lineup to bring up the bottom of the third. The bases were loaded for the Phoenix yet again as sophomore left fielder Kaitlyn Wells faced the opposing pitcher. Wells worked the count and was rewarded with a walk to bring in Seering, adding another run. Senior shortstop Bella Devesa then grounded out to the pitcher, but bought Penny enough time to put up the Phoenix’s fifth run of the game.
The Phoenix was right back on offense thanks to McCard sending the three Charleston batters she faced back to the dugout.
Wells opened the bottom of the fifth with a double that tight roped the foul line to stay fair. One batter later, Devesa hit a single that caused chaos for the Cougars, allowing Wells to capitalize and advance to home. Freshman Payton Swart went in to pinch hit for sophomore left fielder Reagan Hartley and her ground out gave Devesa an opportunity to score and increase the Elon lead to 7-0.
McCard was relieved by senior pitcher Kaitlin King in the top of the sixth. King needed three outs to let the offense close out the game for the Phoenix.
“It’s just so special because it’s also senior day and Kaitlin’s just one of my best friends and it was just such a big moment for us,” McCard said. “I didn’t even realize it till after the game and she hugged me and we shed a few tears because we’ve always just been so supportive of each other.”
King’s three outs opened the door for the Phoenix to mercy rule the Cougars and secure the combined no hitter.
Menscer singled and was eventually able to score on a Charleston wild pitch to end the game on a walkoff in the bottom of the sixth.
Penny said she worked hard to support her pitches both on offense and defense.
“I just gotta get it done for my pitchers,” Penny said. “They just did a great job today and just doing it for them, making sure we get those outs so that the offense can produce and help them on that end of the field.”
The 30 minute intermission did not bode well for Elon. The second game of the doubleheader was a completely different story compared to the first.
Junior pitcher Meredith Wells got the nod to start the second game off for the Phoenix, and the Cougars immediately attacked. The first batter Meredith faced singled to third, as senior third baseman Megan Grant was hit with the ball and shaken up, unable to get the out. Charleston added a second base runner due to a walk. A single and a sacrifice fly broke the Cougars’ scoring drought as the team earned a 2-0 lead. Head coach Kathy Bocock said Charleston was ready to go for the second game.
“I think Charleston had nothing to lose,” Bocock said. “I think they came at us more relaxed and once they came more relaxed, they were better than what we were. I don’t know where our minds were, but I don’t think they were where they needed to be.”
The Cougars looked to continue its strong offense in the top of the third inning. The Phoenix was ready to escape the inning after Penny made a diving stop and stretched to first base for the second out of the inning, but the Cougars would not let that happen. A long single to left field gave Charleston another at-bat, and Meredith gave up a two run home run that shot past the left side of the scoreboard, bringing the score to 4-0.
The Phoenix was unable to replicate the strong offense it had in the first game, recording only one hit in the first three innings. The first hit was Penny’s sixteenth double of the season. Penny has grown into a force to be reckoned with for the Phoenix this season, and she credits this success to her coaches’ teaching.
“Coach Borden and coach Bo have really prepared me for this moment and just coming out doing the game I know how to play and I think that’s what everyone ends up finding out as you grow and get older,” Penny said.
Seering attempted to spark the offense with a leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth, but Elon was unable to do anything with it.
Sophomore pitcher Isley Duggins entered in the top of the fifth inning in an attempt to put a stop to the Charleston offensive onslaught after a string of singles added another run to make the score 5-0. Duggins struck out one and forced the third out to try and motivate her teammates. Penny said with that, the team has to keep their heads in the game, even when playing from behind.
“Take it one pitch at a time and focusing on every pitch, backing up our pitcher, backing up every hitter that’s up to bat, and just really locking in and making sure you’re engaged and just doing that really allows you to try and do the best you can with each at bat,” Penny said.
The Phoenix had yet another unsuccessful inning on offense, going three up, three down.
In the top of the sixth inning, the defense crumbled. After two walks and a passed ball, Charleston had runners on second and third. A single to center field had Seering and Devesa crashing into each other and allowed two runs to score. This marked the end of Duggins’ outing as she was relieved by King. King had a very different second outing on the day, giving up a double and back-to-back singles, which added to the Cougar’s massive lead of 9-0. McCard entered the game and forced a popup for the third out to finally end the inning. McCard said she just works to do her part when she’s in the circle.
“Just try to get an out, just try to stop the bleeding and stop the momentum so we can in turn create some momentum for ourselves,” McCard said.
Seering had her second hit of the game with a single to left field and was advanced to second when Penny reached on a fielding error. Freshman Mauri Murray entered to pinch run for Penny but did not get to do much. Devesa singled to left field and Seering was able to score, helping the Phoenix to avoid a shutout. The game was closed out with the spark being put out with sophomore Chloe Hatzopolous striking out and leaving two runners stranded.
Although it was not how Elon hoped to close out the doubleheader, the energy was still high as the team celebrated its seniors in the post-game ceremony. Penny said she has loved having the opportunity to play for the team over the last four years.
“It’s been crazy,” Penny said. “Coming in at 18 years old and being 21 now, it’s a very different experience each year, but I’m so glad to be part of this team and really grown so much as a person and player overall and I’m so glad to have been a part of Elon softball. I love it.”
McCard said she appreciates the senior’s impact on the program and being able to play with them in her two years at Elon.
“It’s been such a privilege and honor and I love each of them a lot and they’ve just helped shape me into the player I am today,” McCard said.
After splitting the doubleheader, the Phoenix looks to get the series win tomorrow at Hunt Softball Park. Bocock said the team will learn from today to prepare for the rubber match.
“It’s not our first rodeo,” Bocock said. “We’ve done it before, so we know what we’ve got to put this behind us and then we just get ready to come back tomorrow and play.”