Friday, April 14 – Sunday, April 16, William and Mary baseball (24-13, 9-6 CAA) hosted Elon (23-12, 12-5 CAA) for a conference weekend series at Plumeri Park in Williamsburg, Virginia.
The Tribe looked to improve from its fourth place spot in the CAA standings with three solid performances against the Phoenix.
On Friday night, William and Mary won after a late ninth inning rally that extended the game into extra innings.
The Tribe jumped out to an early lead against Elon freshman pitcher Justin Mitrovich, scoring one run in the first after an RBI single from senior catcher Max Winters.
The Phoenix eventually pulled ahead in the third, scratching across three unearned runs after a quick error and a series of timely hits.
Freshman pitcher Owen Pierce was solid for the Tribe in his 12th appearance of the year, throwing three innings while letting up zero earned runs and striking out four batters. Though he did not receive credit for the win, Pierce still carries a 4-2 record this season with a 4.54 ERA.
After falling behind 3-1, the Tribe bats came alive in the top of the third. Senior third baseman Ben Williamson tied the game with a two-run home run over the right-centerfield wall, driving in sophomore outfielder Lucas Carmichael to tie the game at 3-3. Carmichael, who had walked to start the inning, finished the day going 1-3 while scoring twice for the Tribe.
Going into the bottom half of the fourth, the William and Mary bats stayed active. Freshman outfielder Tank Yaghoubi started off the inning with a single, and eventually advanced to second after freshman first baseman Jerry Barnes III was hit by a pitch. With two outs, sophomore shortstop Luca Danos singled, driving in Yaghoubi and giving the Tribe a 4-3 lead.
In the top half of the fifth, the Phoenix retaliated. After a leadoff triple from freshman infielder Ryan Sprock and timely singles by fifth-year catcher Luke Stephenson and junior first baseman Cole Reynolds, Elon recaptured the lead at 5-4.
After the fifth inning, both teams’ bats went silent. From the sixth inning through the bottom half of the ninth, the Tribe and the Phoenix combined for zero hits and seven strikeouts.
However, with the game on the line in the ninth, William and Mary found a much needed spark in the batter’s box. With two outs, Danos singled through the second base hole. Carmichael then doubled, driving Danos in and tying the game 5-5.
With this newfound momentum, graduate student pitcher Rojo Prarie shut down the Phoenix in the top half of the tenth. Prairie, who earned the win on Friday, threw four innings of no-hit baseball in relief and struck out five Elon batters while allowing just one walk.
The Tribe’s pitching staff as a whole has shut down numerous opponents’ offenses this season, ranking 16th in the country in team ERA in NCAA Division I. When asked about what elevated the team to this level, sophomore pitcher Carter Lovasz cited the group’s resilient mindset.
“I believe we have a very special pitching staff this year and… one of the aspects that makes it so special is the ability to go out on the mound and just compete,” Lovasz said. “The chips aren’t always going to fall your way but no matter what we go out there and we compete and we make it tough for opponents to get runs.”
Lovasz also emphasized the importance of pitchers trusting their teammates.
“Our pitchers don’t normally go more than three to four innings a game,” Lovasz said. “And, we all have the trust and confidence that when my three innings are done, that the next guy is gonna go out and compete at the same level.”
In the bottom half of the 10th, the Phoenix became their own worst enemy. After Winters reached on an error to start the inning, Yaghoubi grounded out into a fielder’s choice and took Winter’s spot at first. With two outs, junior catcher Nate Goranson put the ball in play, and with some Tribe luck, Elon’s third baseman made an untimely error that allowed Yaghoubi to come around and score the game-winning run.
Despite going up 1–0 in the series, William and Mary was unable to translate its success in game one to Saturday’s matchup, losing the game 8-0 in shutout fashion. Although the team combined for six hits and three walks, the Tribe’s offense could not score any runs off of Elon sophomore pitcher Shea Sprague. He struck out a season-high nine batters against the Tribe, continuing his strong season for the Phoenix and improving to a 5-2 record while carrying an impressive 2.45 ERA.
The Phoenix scored often and in bunches, capped off by a three-run home run in the fifth by sophomore outfielder Adam Berry and a three-run double in the ninth by redshirt junior catcher Parker Haskin.
Now with the series tied 1-1, Sunday’s game became even more crucial for the Tribe in order to secure another series win against a CAA opponent.
Game three started slowly for both offenses, largely because of stellar pitching performances from both teams’ starters. Sophomore pitcher Nate Knowles dominated on the mound for the Tribe, striking out eight of the nine hitters he retired over three scoreless innings of work. Freshman Ryan Sprock got the ball for the Phoenix and went 6.1 innings while allowing just two Tribe runs.
In the bottom half of the fourth inning, Goranson drilled a home run over the left center wall, breaking the scoreless tie and giving William and Mary a 1-0 lead.
In the top half of the next inning, redshirt junior infielder Tanner Holliman hit a home run of his own, bringing Elon even with the Tribe at 1-1.
Strong pitching continued to control the game until the top half of the seventh, where Stephenson hit his sixth home run of the year and gave the Phoenix a 3-1 lead going into the final three innings of the series.
Determined to fight back like they did in game one, the Tribe’s offense retaliated in the bottom half of the seventh with a run of their own. After Goranson began the inning with a walk, Yaghoubi singled into right for his second of three hits in the game. Both runners advanced after a sacrifice bunt from graduate student infielder Cole Ragone, putting William and Mary runners on second and third with one out. Freshman infielder Corey Adams then hit a deep fly ball to center field, allowing Goranson to come home and cut the lead to one going into the eighth.
After two strong innings from Lovasz, the Tribe had just three outs to play in the bottom half of the ninth, still trailing 3-2.
Winters started the offensive half of the ninth for the Tribe with a flyout, which Goranson followed with a lineout to third. With two outs, William and Mary dug deep to rally with only its final out remaining.
Yaghoubi kept the line moving, singling into right field for his third hit of the game and fifth of the series. The energy at Plumeri Park picked up as the fans in Williamsburg hoped to see a repeat of Friday’s walk-off ending. In the very next at-bat, Ragone doubled into the right-center gap, advancing Yaghoubi to third and bringing the tying run 90 feet closer to home plate.
The suspense at Plumeri was at an all-time high as Adams stepped up to the plate. Adams, who was hitless in five at-bats against the Phoenix on Friday, was one swing away from being the hero of Sunday’s game and securing a series win for the Tribe.
On the 1-1 pitch, Adams ripped a single into right field, scoring Yaghoubi and Ragone for the Tribe’s second walk-off win of the weekend.
In two games this series, the Tribe walked away winners after being down going into the ninth.
“Both Friday and Sunday we were down to our last strike of the game and managed to pull through and get the win,” Lovasz said. “Our team is never out of the fight.”
Lovasz explained how the team works on staying focused through the end of every game.
“That is something we have put a lot of focus and emphasis on is just competing every pitch of the game for the guys next to you,” Lovasz said. “And when we do that, we see great results.”
The Tribe will look to keep its surging month going as they approach the back half of the season in the coming weeks.
“I think our mindset is about staying committed to our approach as a team and making every game count,” Lovasz said. “At this point in the year, every single game matters for conference standings. There is no day where we can just ‘lay off the gas’. We have to be ready and willing to go out every game and compete for our spot in the conference tournament.”
The Tribe will travel to Durham, North Carolina to play Duke (23-12, 9-8 ACC) on Tuesday, April 18 at Jack Coombs Field.