Heading into its final home game of the season, the Elon University baseball team looked to complete a few milestones with a win.
The Phoenix did just that, winning 9-6 against the North Carolina A&T Aggies, and in doing so, earned its 30th victory on the season, final home victory and ticket to the Colonial Athletic Association postseason.
Prior to first pitch, the Phoenix honored its nine seniors in its annual Senior Day ceremony. Parker Haskin, Connor Coolahan, Bryce Jeske, Willie Havens, Liam Dabagian, Joe Savino, Luke Stephenson, Sean O’Connell and Spencer Bauer were presented with jersey plaques and hugs from the coaching staff, commemorating their hard work throughout their time with the team.
“They mean the world to me,” head coach Mike Kennedy said. “They mean the world to this program. They're all good kids, and they work hard. So it's just awesome to send them out on a win on their last game at Latham Park.”
With senior families in town, and to celebrate Mother’s Day, today’s first pitch was thrown out by each of the nine senior's moms to their sons. Savino said he was thrilled to have been able to play in front of his parents today.
“My grandmother flew in from Arizona, so it was a special moment to pitch in front of them, and I’m glad we pulled out the win,” Savino said.
But the path to victory was not easy for the Phoenix. Freshman pitcher Ryan Sprock began on the mound for the Phoenix, but his outing did not last long. Kennedy pulled him after two home runs brought the score to 3-0 with only two outs. Kennedy looked to Savino to try and end the inning, which he did with a strikeout – his first of many.
The Phoenix responded right away in the bottom of the frame. Moving up to the leadoff spot, Haskin hit a single and was brought all the way home after sophomore left fielder Charlie Granatell’s double and junior first baseman Cole Reynolds’ RBI single.
In the top of the second, Savino gave up a run with an RBI single, putting the score at 4-1 in favor of the Aggies. But, the Phoenix would continue to attack the Aggies pitching once again in the bottom half.
Sophomore right fielder Kenny Mallory Jr. singled to begin the inning, and he became the first run Haskin drew in off of his own RBI single. After a strong performance in the loss yesterday, Haskin said he has been focused when stepping up to the plate.
“Just trying to get a good pitch to hit and put a good swing on it and just stay within myself and just make the most of the opportunities,” Haskin said.
The scoring only continued. With the bases loaded, Reynolds worked a walk, forcing Coolahan to score from third. After, junior center fielder Justin Cassella hit a go-ahead two RBI double, giving the Phoenix the 5-4 lead.
But trouble was far from over, as Savino gave up back-to-back singles to begin the third. A fielder’s choice and a double later and the Aggies would regain their lead 6-5. But after, the Phoenix offense continued its damage.
With runners on the corners, Haskin once again stepped up to the plate. He hit a sacrifice fly for his second RBI of the game and tied it at six apiece. Kennedy said he’s liked what he’s seen from Haskin at the plate.
“He’s been playing really well,” Kennedy said. “The challenging part is where do we put him on the field, with Luke being another RBI guy for us as well. His swing is short, he's been much more direct to the ball. He's hitting more line drives than he is soft, flat balls and that's how he plays, that's when he's good.”
Savino locked in on the mound in the top of the fourth, as he earned a one, two, three inning in the top of the fourth, beginning his stretch of shutout innings.
“We weren't very good early on the mound and they jumped on us but we responded and jumped right back,” Kennedy said. “We got what we needed in terms of bullpen with Joe and finally throwing up some zeros after we gave up a few early.”
In the bottom of the frame, the Phoenix took a lead with Reynolds’ go-ahead home run. Throughout the rest of the game, the team was able to maintain its lead, pulling off the comeback.
Savino continued working on the mound, picking up two more three up, three down innings. In the top of the seventh, he gave up a single with two outs, but earned a big strikeout to end it, ending his time on the mound on a high note.
“I was just trying to get one pitch at a time and try to get us off the field and get our bats going,” Savino said. “Just give them our best chance to win.”
Savino picked up eight strikeouts over six and two-thirds innings, both of which marked his season highs. Kennedy said he was proud of his efforts on the mound.
“Once he started throwing three pitches in there to each guy and mixing it up a little more, he really got in a groove and started throwing well,” Kennedy said. “It’s twofold, being able to go that deep really helps us come tournament time. If he needs to start a game or something now he's been in that position where we can stretch him out a little bit.”
In the bottom of the frame, Haskin cranked a two-run home run over the left field fence, bringing the score to 9-6.
“It was pretty special,” Haskin said. “My mom's here, so just a cool moment, one of the cooler baseball memories I’ve had, and I’m sure she really appreciated it. She got the ball.”
With the home run, he picked up two more RBIs, bringing his total to four, which tied his career-high.
The Phoenix looked to Dabagian to earn the final six outs of the game. Dabagian delivered with a heads up play to home, earning the final out in the eighth inning. As the grounder dribbled to him, he tossed it to Haskin, who applied the tag on the runner at home and ended the inning.
“That was a huge play,” Kennedy said. “The awareness of both of those guys, Parker to stay at the plate and not leave the plate was huge. But then Liam, to realize that was his only play, really a game winning awareness play right there.”
Dabagian earned the final three outs in the ninth, obtaining the save and ending the game with a 9-6 Phoenix victory. Savino said he’s always confident when handing the ball over to Dabagian.
“He's made for that,” Savino said. “Every ninth inning that he's out there, I believe in it. He's gonna shut it down like he always does. It’s good to see it on Senior Day, and it’s been a pleasure here, but we’re not done.”
Sealing the victory, Haskin was able to walk off the field for the last time at Latham Park. He said he has been thankful for his time with the team.
“Time has flown by, but I’m just grateful for being able to share the experiences with some amazing guys and make lifelong friends,” Haskin said.
Although the final home game is in the books for the Phoenix, it still has one more series in Hofstra before the CAA championship tournament in Charleston. Savino said he’s looking forward to the team putting out their best effort over the next stretch of baseball.
“We’re going to get hot right now and take that into the postseason,” Savino said. “It's going to be a good test for us to go up there. We're not just going to lay back and take it easy. We're going to play our best ball and carry it in, and we're going to get the ring that we want.”