The Elon University baseball team looked to clinch its spot in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament with a win against the North Carolina A&T Aggies after yesterday’s blowout. The Aggies weren’t going to let that happen, as they shut down the late rally by the Phoenix and won the nail biter 11-9.
Freshman pitcher Justin Mitrovich would get the nod from head coach Mike Kennedy to start game two of the series. He would only see two innings of play, giving up five runs on six hits, including a three-run blast over the right field wall. Mitrovich’s outing would force the Phoenix to play from behind, down 5-0 at the end of the third. Kennedy said the team needs to simply pitch better.
“Didn’t pitch it well, got behind early and then didn’t pitch it well enough to allow us to make a run at them and try to come back,” Kennedy said.
The Phoenix stranded three runners in the first three innings of the game. Freshman pitcher Sam Nomura entered the game in the top of the third to do damage control for Mitrovich. In the top of fourth, he gave up a solo home run to right field to the first batter he faced. Nomura gave up one more hit before Elon was able to retire the side with the score sitting at 6-0.
In the bottom of the fourth, junior center fielder Justin Cassella tried to get things going for Elon. Cassella singled to center field and set his eyes on second and took off running to steal the base. He was left there when junior left fielder Connor Offshack flied out to right field. Cassella said when the team is forced to play catch up, it impacts how they play.
“It definitely plays a role in how we’re approaching our at-bats,” Cassella said. “We’re just trying to get men on and not trying to do anything too much but at the end of the day, it’s just the same game just trying to get guys on, get him over, and drive in runs.”
Elon would make some adjustments going into the top of the fifth inning, putting in redshirt junior catcher Parker Haskin and redshirt junior pitcher Spencer Bauer. Bauer allowed a single and hit the next batter he faced, putting runners on first and second. He was able to escape the jam with a strikeout, giving Elon its first shutout inning of the game.
A quick bottom of the few half innings would take the game to the bottom of the sixth. Haskin would make an immediate impact on offense with a double to the corner of right field. The Aggies looked to cool down the hot bats of Cassella and redshirt junior second baseman Tanner Holliman and struck them both out swinging back-to-back.
Bauer would stay on the bump for the Phoenix as the rain started to fall in the top of the seventh. The weather proved tricky, as Bauer gave up a double to right field to the first batter and walked the second. He would then load up the bases by hitting the next batter. The Aggies seized the opportunity on Bauer’s wild pitch and tacked on a run before a sacrifice fly added another. Junior pitcher Ben Sieracki took the mound before a single added the Aggies’ third run of the inning, increasing their lead to 9-0. Kennedy said the pitchers need to help their offensive with clean innings.
“We don’t pitch better and we can’t put zeros up,” Kennedy said. “It’s hard to recover from a start like that.”
As the bottom of the seventh came, the Phoenix looked to avoid being shut out by the Aggies. Offshack would take his base after being hit by a pitch for the second time in the game. Redshirt junior third baseman Connor Coolahan would reach via a walk and junior shortstop James Broderick would follow this up with one of his own. This would force North Carolina A&T to relieve their pitcher with the bases juiced and no outs.
Sophomore right fielder Charlie Granatell would step into the box looking to damage, already having two hits in the game. Instead, he was hit by the pitch on the first throw, earning the first Elon run of the day. The Phoenix, however, was not satisfied. Junior first baseman Cole Reynolds would line an RBI single to center field and keep the bases loaded for the Elon catcher. Haskin shot a long single through the left side to bring in two more runs. Cassella came up to bat and faced a full count before doubling down the left field line, to cut the Aggie lead down 9-5. Cassella said his good game Friday helped prepare him for today’s matchup.
“You get a little bit more confidence going into the rest of the weekend, but at the end of the day, it’s just swinging at good pitches and laying off the bad ones,” Cassella said.
Sophomore pitcher Sam DiLella would enter in the top of the eighth to try and help Elon get a stop on defense. DiLella walked the first batter, who would then steal second. The Phoenix got the much needed first two outs, but the runner scored after a single. Redshirt freshman pitcher Christo Garrelts came in from the bullpen to get the Phoenix out of the inning. Garrelts would be the sixth of the seven pitchers the Phoenix used in the game. Kennedy said when using a lot of pitchers, they’re just looking for someone to get them off the field.
“Today we went through so many because you’re just looking for somebody that can get you a zero and we didn’t have many of those,” Kennedy said. “
The score stood at 10-5 in North Carolina A&T’s favor in the bottom of the eighth. Coolahan would reach on his second walk of the day. He leads the team in walks this season with 36. Broderick’s single and Granatell walk would fill the bases with only one out. Freshman designated hitter Ryan Sprock would crank the third Elon double of the day to add two more runs for the Phoenix. Reynolds grounded out but would give Granatell enough time to score from third, putting Elon within two runs of the Aggies.
Redshirt junior pitcher Liam Dabagian came in for the top of the ninth inning looking for a quick three outs. After getting two outs, North Carolina A&T would hit a single to put a runner on first, who would advance to second on a wild pitch. An RBI single gave the Aggies another run before going into the bottom half of the ninth.
Cassella worked to help the Phoenix stay alive, even if it meant doing it by himself. Cassella launched a solo home run, his fourteenth of the season. Holliman and Offshack singled to put the tying run on first with no outs. Coolahan would reach on a fielder’s choice as North Carolina A&T elected to get Holliman, the lead runner, out. Broderick looked to keep the game going but hit into a double play to close out the game and snuff the Phoenix spark with a final score of 11-9. Kennedy said his team needs to be ready to go out and play tomorrow.
“This is baseball,” Kennedy said. “It’s 56 games. You’re gonna go through ups and downs, you always do. You go through hot streaks as a hitter, you go through some tough spells as a pitcher. It’s just the way our game is.”
The Phoenix will look to clinch the series, along with a spot in the CAA tournament tomorrow in the final home matchup and Senior Day against the Aggies tomorrow at Latham Park. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.