Posted: February 26, 2010
WILMINGTON, N.C. – After missing the entire 2009 season, junior Brendan McGaheran returned in a big way Friday afternoon as he knocked in the game-winning run for Lehigh as it rallied to defeat UNC Wilmington 5-4 in the first game of the Hughes Bros. Challenge. Trailing by one in the top of the eighth inning, the Mountain Hawks scored two runs to pull ahead for good over the Seahawks. Senior Ken Longernecker (1-0) pitched three scoreless innings to pick up the win for Lehigh, who moves to 1-0 on the season. It was the first opening day win for the Mountain Hawks since the 2005 season when they defeated Coppin State 9-3. UNC Wilmington, who received votes in two national preseason polls, falls to 2-2 with the setback.
“It was outstanding pitching by Ken and (Andrew) Berger today,” head coach Sean Leary said. “The two of them led us over a real quality program. They faced some tough situations, but they were able to get out of them with the way they competed.”
Leary continued on the importance of picking up the win in the season opener, “The guys worked so hard in the offseason and were rewarded with this win today. We feel so good for the team and it goes to show that all the lifting and training will pay off. We knocked off a quality opponent and I thought we played with some confidence and it should help us build even more.”
Even though Longernecker picked up the win for Lehigh, senior Andrew Berger pitched six quality innings allowing only four runs on five hits. The righty struck out six Seahawks and gave up one walk in the start.
Leading the Brown and White offensively was freshman Alex Jacquez who finished 2-for-3 at the plate with two runs batted in. Junior Billy Goldman contributed a team-high three hits, while also knocking in one run. McGaheran finished the game 1-for-5 and made some quality plays in the field.
Leary commented on the play of McGaheran who was in his first game back, “He made a few outstanding plays in the field that won’t show up in the box score. He really battled today and was able to get his bat on the ball in the eighth for a nice ending to his comeback. He really solidifies our defense and today’s game was the icing on the cake for him.”
UNC Wilmington was led by senior Robbie Monday who had one hit and two runs batted in. Taking the loss for the Seahawks was sophomore Steven Davis (0-1) who came in on relief and allowed two runs.
The Mountain Hawks got things rolling in the top of the third as they took a 2-0 lead. Junior Brendan Pifer and Jacquez started the inning off as they recorded back-to-back hits and later they advanced to second and third off a passed ball. Goldman got his second hit of the day as he knocked in Pifer and junior Andrew Russell followed by singling in Jacquez.
The Brown and White extended its lead to 3-0 in the top of the fourth as Jacquez drove in junior Sean Killeen with a single. The Seahawks finally got on the board in the bottom half of the inning as Monday hit a two-run double to bring the score to 3-2. Sophomore Thomas Pope then evened the score with an infield single as Monday came into score.
Junior Cody Stanley gave UNC Wilmington its first and only lead of the game when he hit a solo home run to left field in the bottom of the fifth.
After a few scoreless innings, the Mountain Hawks got the lead back as Jacquez’s safety squeeze scored sophomore Ryan Gajdos to tie the game with one out in the top of the eighth. Next, McGaheran dropped a single into right field to score Ross Biggs to give Lehigh the go ahead run.
The Mountain Hawks used two bunts to jump start their rally and Leary was happy to see the team executing the small things. “I was really proud that we executed three sacrifice bunts during the game. All three were under tremendous pressure and were entirely different situations. It shows that we have been really focusing during drills at practice.”
Lehigh will be back in action tomorrow morning against Liberty at 10 a.m. Kevin Mihalik will take the mound for Lehigh against the Flames. The Mountain Hawks will play Morehead State at 4:00 p.m. in their second game of the day. Mike Lebo will get the ball against the Eagles.