BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh baseball team (8-17-1, 2-0 PL) took the first two games of the four-game series vs. rival Lafayette (6-17-1, 0-2 PL) Saturday, winning 3-1 and then 10-2. Senior Cory Kent pitched a seven-inning complete game with seven strikeouts in game one and freshman Nick Stephens followed that up with an 8.0 IP gem. With the two wins, head coach Sean Leary became the all-time winningest coach in Lehigh baseball history with 327 wins.
“I am grateful to have the opportunity to be here and to accumulate that number," Leary said. “It means I had a lot of great players and coaches with me over the years.”
Kent picked up his first win of the season while it was his third seven-inning complete game. After allowing one run on three hits in the first inning, Kent held Lafayette to just two hits the rest of the way. Stephens set a career high with 8.0 IP (his previous high was 6.1 vs. Iona) and allowed two runs on eight hits with five strikeouts.
“You get 15 innings out of 16 from your starters and you certainly have to tip your cap to them, they were outstanding,” Leary said. “Cory set the tone after a tough first inning and he really locked in and gave a captain’s performance. And Stephens has thrown it well but hasn’t strung together six or seven innings like he did today. He really impressed while handling his first Patriot League start.”
While Kent and Stephens were dealing, Lehigh’s offense combined for 24 hits including 15 in game two. In the first game, freshman Justin Pacchioli was 3-for-4 while senior Ryan Gajdos was 2-for-2. In the second game, 10 different Mountain Hawks had hits including four multi-hit games. Sophomore Joe Abeln went 3-for-5 with 3 RBIs thanks to a three-run home run while sophomore Brandon Wilt, Gajdos and senior Brendan McGaheran each had two hits.
McGaheran, who also had a hit in game one, extended his hitting streak to 14 games, nine of which have been multi-hit games.
In game one, Lafayette got out to a 1-0 lead after three consecutive singles in the top of the first. In the bottom of the second inning, Lehigh loaded the bases with nobody out but a lineout double play and ground out ended the threat.
In the top of the fifth, Lafayette threatened to retake the lead with runners on first and third with one out. The Leopards attempted a safety squeeze but Gajdos –charging in from third - flipped the rolling ball to Warger to nail the runner at the plate.
Momentum carried over to the bottom half of the inning when Lehigh got on the board with one run. With runners on second and third after freshman Conor Faust led off with a walk and Gajdos doubled, senior Chad Warga drove in a run with a SAC fly to even the game 1-1.
Then in the bottom of the sixth, Faust again got on base to lead off the inning. Gajdos moved him over with a bunt and Warga singled to set up runners on first and third. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, as Faust’s run would come to be the game-winner. McGaheran tacked on an insurance run with a two-out, RBI single.
John Gentile (0-6) took the loss for Lafayette as he went 5.2 innings, allowing three runs on eight hits. Offensively, four of Lafayette’s five hits came from the top of the order as the one-through-four spots each had a hit.
Lehigh’s momentum from its game one win carried right over to game two. The Mountain Hawks got out to a 3-0 lead after the first two innings, scoring two in the first and one in the second.
In the first inning, Lehigh had its first two runners on but a double play looked as if the threat was over. Sophomore Tyler Brong then came up with the clutch two-out RBI single. He stole second and junior Casey Turner drove him in with a RBI single. In the second, Gajdos led off the inning with a single and after Warga moved him to second with a SAC bunt, junior Brandon Sady drove him in with a RBI single.
Lafayette cut the Lehigh lead to 3-1 in the top of the fifth after a single, SAC bunt and then two-out RBI bloop single. But the Mountain Hawks came right back in the bottom half and scored two unearned runs on Leopards’ errors. With one out, Abeln singled and stole second. Brong then reached on an error by the shortstop which scored Abeln. Brong stole second while Turner reached on another Lafayette error. After Brong and Turner pulled off a double steal, Gajdos came up with the two-out RBI single to extend Lehigh’s lead to 5-1.
Lehigh tacked on two more in the seventh on two more unearned runs. Then in the eighth, Abeln blasted a three-run homer, his first of the season.
Junior Thomas O’Malley relieved Stephens in the ninth to shut the door.
Evan Perro took the loss for Lafayette (1-3), allowing five runs (three earned) on seven hits and striking out five in 4.2 IP. Offensively, Andrew Santomauro was 3-for-3 with one RBI and a run scored while Thomas Dunleavy was 2-for-3.
The pair of games marked the 342nd and 343rd meeting between Lehigh and Lafayette as Lehigh is now 141-201-2 all-time while the Mountain Hawks hold the edge 49-39 since the two have met as Patriot League teams.
Lehigh-Lafayette split the four-game series last season in Easton, Pa. Lehigh won 8-6 and fell 7-4 on April 9 and then won 8-3 and fell 9-2 the following day.
The two schools will meet Sunday for the final two games of the series with game one set to begin at noon.
“We told our team that tomorrow is a separate series,” Leary said. “We know Lafayette will have high emotion tomorrow and will be ready to go. Game one will be one of the biggest games of the series so we are anxious to build on what we did today. We just want to keep our guys grounded as we head into tomorrow.”
Live audio will be available for both games on Lehighsports.com.