Mike Kennedy, Elon Phoenix

Elon Phoenix

Winning baseball continues to be the tradition for Mike Kennedy and the Elon Phoenix baseball as the skipper enters his 22nd season as head coach in 2017-18.

His previous 21 Elon Phoenix teams have collected 17 winning records and 15 campaigns of 30 or more victories, all while facing many of the country’s finest programs.

His 2006 squad set a school record with 45 victories while the 2008 team captured the program’s first NCAA Division I league tournament title. Kennedy’s program won four Southern Conference regular-season crowns as well as two league tournament titles.

With each victory tallied, Kennedy adds to his record for the most wins by an Elon Phoenix baseball coach, a mark he has been building upon since 2003. In his 21 seasons, Kennedy has guided the Elon Phoenix to 678 victories. In the last 19 seasons, Elon has recorded 27 victories over opponents ranked in the top 25. In his tenure, Kennedy has led his program to 53 victories over Atlantic Coast Conference opponents.

During the 2017 season, Kennedy saw his pitching staff toss a pair of no-hitters. Robbie Welhaf tossed the first, no-hitting Longwood for the program’s first no-no since 1989. Jordan Barrett and Kirby would later combine to no-hit College of Charleston for the first no-hitter ever thrown in the CAA Tournament. The pitching staff also established a new program record with 491 strikeouts. That squad boasted four all-conference players and two all-rookie selections, including the 2017 CAA Rookie of the Year in pitcher Kyle Brnovich. Brnovich also collected a pair of freshman All-America honors. Barrett would be drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 2017 draft.

In 2016, the Phoenix’s second as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association, Elon posted a 13-10 conference record to finish third. During the year, Elon defeated 16th-ranked East Carolina on the road, the program’s first win at ECU since 2007. Five Phoenix players earned All-CAA honors and two were named to the league’s all-rookie squad. Elon saw two players chosen in the 2016 MLB First-Year Player Draft.

Kennedy guided Elon in to its first season of play in the CAA in 2015. The Phoenix finished the year with a 13-11 league mark, finishing fourth in its first season in the CAA. Along the way, Elon claimed two victories over 22nd-ranked UNCW.

At the end of the year, Elon placed four players on the All-CAA squads and had one player named to the league’s all-rookie team while two players collected all-state accolades. Outfielder Ryan Cooper became just the seventh Elon player to earn ABCA all-region honors.

During the 2014 season, Kennedy scored his 600th career victory when the Phoenix claimed a 12-2 victory over Wofford on April 12. The squad boasted the 2014 SoCon Player of the Year in Casey Jones who also earned All-America honors from three organizations. Senior pitcher Ryan Pennell also was drafted by the Tampa Bay Rays.

The 2013 squad claimed the program’s ninth consecutive top-three SoCon finish, as the maroon and gold tied-for second in the regular season. Kennedy’s Phoenix then put togehter a run through the SoCon Tournament, winning five straight games after dropping its tournament opener, to win the league title and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. In NCAA Regional play in Charlottesville, Va., the Phoenix notched one of many firsts under Kennedy as the team advanced to its first-ever regional final.

That team finished with a mark of 34-30 overall and 18-11 in SoCon play. It marked the 14th consecutive season with at least 30 victories for the program. Three Elon players collected All-SoCon honors, including league player of the year Ryan Kinsella who finished the year ranking second nationally in both home runs and RBI. Kinsella would also earn All-America distinction from three organizations and became the program’s first ABCA all-region selection since 2009.

Following the 2013 campaign, five Elon players were chosen in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, giving the program a total of 24 MLB draft picks in a five-year span.

In 2012, Kennedy led his Phoenix to yet another top-three finish in the SoCon as Elon went 33-26 overall and 20-10 in league action.

At the conclusion of the season, two Elon players were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Two Phoenix standouts were also recognized with All-Southern Conference accolades.

During the 2011 season, Kennedy collected his 500th career victory as his Phoenix shutout league rival Georgia Southern 9-0 on April 24. The squad won the program’s fourth SoCon regular-season crown by churning out 23 league victories. Overall, the team posted a 36-21 record.

Following the year, four Elon players were selected in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and a fifth signed a free agent contract. Four members of the squad were also recognized with all-league accolades, including John Brebbia who was chosen as the SoCon Pitcher of the Year. Infielder Sebastian Gomez was honored as a member of the Louisville Slugger Freshmen All-American Team.

In 2010, Elon earned its third consecutive berth in the NCAA Regionals, appearing in the Atlanta Regional for the second straight year. The Phoenix posted a 38-24 overall record. Included in Elon’s 6-1 mark against the ACC were two victories over fifth-ranked Clemson and decision over 20th-rated North Carolina.

At the conclusion of the season, six Elon players were chosen in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft and another signed a free agent contract. A total of six Phoenix players also were named to either the all-conference or all-freshman teams.

Prior to the start of the 2009 season, Kennedy was selected to serve as the pitching coach for USA Baseball’s National Team (Collegiate) during the summer. With USA Baseball, Kennedy was reunited with his mentor Rick Jones, a former head coach at both Elon and Tulane.

Under Kennedy’s guidance, Team USA’s pitching staff recorded a 2.16 ERA in the squad’s 24 games that summer. In 212.2 innings, the staff surrendered 51 earned runs on just 118 hits. The pitchers also fanned 282 hitters and held opponents to a .164 batting average. Under Kennedy, Team USA threw the first-ever no-hitter against international competition. The squad captured the 2009 World Baseball Challenge title.

In 2009, the Phoenix took home the regular-season SoCon title for the second straight year and third time in four years. Kennedy’s squad finished the SoCon season with a 22-3 record and went 41-18 overall. Elon earned a berth as the number two seed into the Atlanta Regional of the 2009 NCAA College Baseball World Series. The team also collected the program’s first top-25 finish at the Division I level, ranking 24th in the final Baseball America poll. Elon also checked in at 27th in the last National Collegiate Baseball Writers Asscociation top-30 poll and was among the squads receiving votes in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches Top-25.

The 2009 season delivered numerous accolades as Kennedy was chosen as the league’s coach of the year for the third time in his career while junior infielder Chase Austin was honored as the SoCon’s Co-Player of the Year.  Seven different players earned all-league distinction. The program also had an Elon-record seven players chosen in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Two players were chosen as All-Americans by the American Baseball Coaches Association.

Kennedy’s 2008 team claimed its second Southern Conference regular-season title in three years after posting a 19-8 league mark and a 44-18 overall record. The team also won its first-ever SoCon Tournament title, cruising through the league’s showcase to earn its third NCAA Regional bid.  During the 2008 season, the Phoenix defeated fourth-ranked North Carolina by a 2-0 score – the program’s 18th victory over a top-25 foe since the beginning of the 1999 season.

With a good season came the expected accolades as Kennedy was named the Southern Conference’s Coach of the Year by both his peers and the league’s media. Elon also boasted the league’s pitcher of the year in Steven Hensley, the league’s freshman of the year in Thomas Girdwood and five players who collected all-league accolades. Hensley was also honored as an All-American, the first for Elon at the NCAA Division I level, while Girdwood was named a freshman All-American.

In 2007, the 32-29 Phoenix finished third in the Southern Conference with a 15-12 league mark. The 2007 campaign saw Elon pick up three victories over teams ranked in the top-25 – No. 11 Miami, No. 17 Clemson and No. 24 College of Charleston.

Elon set a new attendance mark during the 2007 season as well, drawing 1,811 fans to witness the Phoenix host the No. 1-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels. It was the second time during the season that Elon set a new attendance mark. Earlier in the year, 1,421 fans turned out to watch the Phoenix take on top-ranked South Carolina at Latham Park, the first time that a No. 1-ranked team had ever visited Elon in any sport at the NCAA Division I level. The 2007 squad also featured two players that earned all-conference accolades.

In 2006, Kennedy led his team to its first-ever SoCon regular-season title with a 21-6 league record. The team also collected its second NCAA Division I Tournament berth in five seasons, participating in the Clemson Regional as the number two seed. In the regional’s opening game, the Phoenix knocked off third-seeded Mississippi State by a 5-4 margin for the first NCAA Division I Tournament victory in any sport at Elon. Kennedy also led his team to its first-ever NCAA Division I national ranking as the Phoenix appeared at No. 25 in Baseball America’s poll on May 22. The 2006 squad also earned a win over a top-25 team, defeating No. 14 South Carolina.  For his efforts, Kennedy was honored as the 2006 SoCon Coach of the Year while five Phoenix players earned all-conference recognition. Elon also boasted the 2006 SoCon Freshman of the Year in Hensley.

In 2005, the skipper paced his Phoenix to a 32-25 overall record and an 18-12 Southern Conference mark, good enough to tie for third place in the 11-team league. Two members of that squad earned All-Southern Conference distinction.

The 2005 Phoenix squad claimed wins over a pair of nationally-ranked opponents – No. 6 North Carolina and No. 22 Coastal Carolina (twice) – as well as SEC member Auburn.

In 2004, Elon’s first year in the Southern Conference, Kennedy led his Phoenix to a 31-28 overall record and a 17-13 conference mark to finish fourth in the league. Four different players were honored with all-conference accolades.

The 2003 campaign was one for the record books. On the heels of the university’s first-ever at-large bid to an NCAA Division I tournament in any sport, Kennedy, a 1991 Elon graduate, made his mark by putting his name at the top of the list of Elon’s all-time winningest coaches. With a 19-4 victory over Liberty, Kennedy set the record for most wins by an Elon baseball coach, claiming his 197th victory at the helm of the program. Making that feat even more impressive is that it was accomplished while Elon completed the transition from the NCAA Division II ranks to its current NCAA Division I classification.

With an overall record of 34-23-2 (12-7 in the Big South, tying for second place), Kennedy’s 2003 club matched its 34 wins from the previous season in which the Phoenix advanced to the Clemson Regional of the NCAA Tournament. For the fifth consecutive year, Kennedy guided his squad to a triumph over a nationally-ranked top-20 opponent. With victories over No. 7 Wake Forest, No. 14 Clemson and No. 22 North Carolina, the Phoenix defeated three top-25 teams for the second consecutive season.

In Elon’s historic 100th season of baseball celebrated in 2002, Kennedy’s squad compiled a record of 34-23, including a 13-8 mark in the Big South Conference, good enough for second place in the league. In just its third official season of Division I baseball, the Phoenix received an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament and competed in the Clemson Regional. In Elon’s run to the regional, the Phoenix posted impressive victories over No. 1 Clemson, No. 10 Wake Forest and No. 20 East Carolina. The Phoenix fell one out shy of recording a three-game sweep at defending national champion Miami that season.

About the author, Bill

Bill Ballew has been involved with collegiate and professional baseball since 1983. He has been the Atlanta correspondent for Baseball America since 1991 and has served as the editorial content manager for Baseball The Magazine for more than five years. He is a member of the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA), National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) and the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).