Posted: April 20, 2004
Limeport, PA – In a game that saw plenty of offense, a stellar defensive play proved to be the difference as the Mountain Hawks erased two four-run leads and literally hung on for a thrilling, come-from-behind 12-11 victory over rival Lafayette in a non-league game on Tuesday night.
The win improves Lehigh’s record to 22-17 on the season, and propels the Mountain Hawks into the championship game of the Liberty Bell Classic.
Meanwhile, the Leopards drop to 16-19 with the defeat.
Overall, the two teams combined for 23 runs, 29 hits, ten errors, and 19 runners left on base. The game had a little bit of everything, including dramatic home runs, perfect bunts, and baserunning blunders. In the end, though, it will be remembered by an amazing diving catch by Lehigh right fielder Jeff Baker that ended the game, and sent Lehigh to the tournament championship at the new home of the Philadelphia Phillies.
It had all the makings of a classic: two old rivals squaring off on a neutral field under the lights, with a chance to earn the right to play in a big league ballpark. With a weekend four-game critical Patriot League series looming just days away, Lehigh and Lafayette met in the semifinal game of the 2004 Liberty Bell Classic at Limeport Stadium.
Despite hosting the event, Lehigh was the designated visiting team. It didn’t take the Mountain Hawks long to get on the board, however, as freshman catcher Matt McBride ripped a two-run homer to left (2), to give LU an early 2-0 lead.
The Leopards quickly responded, posting six runs in the home half of the same frame off Lehigh starter Chris O’Brien. Lafayette scored six times on seven hits to build a 6-2 advantage after just one inning.
Two Lafayette miscues in the top of the second inning helped Lehigh pick up a run and shave the deficit to 6-3. Left fielder Nick Bet trimmed the lead to three runs with a base knock to center field. In the top of the third, Lehigh scored twice more to draw within a run as Forrest Doane and Jeff Baker each recorded RBI singles.
Leading 6-5 in the bottom of the fourth, Lafayette tacked on three more runs as center fielder Jason Boyd tripled home two runs and later scored himself to build the lead back to four runs at 9-5.
In the fifth inning Forrest Doane lifted a fly ball to center field that would have been out of most parks, but not the roomy Limeport Stadium. With a steep incline in center and a fence that stands 485 feet away from home plate, Doane’s drive resulted in a double. He was later stranded at third base.
Lehigh hung tough, and Doane soon ensured the Mountain Hawks would be right back in the game. Trailing by four in the sixth, Lehigh rallied to tie the score. After two hits, a passed ball, and a sacrifice fly made the score 9-7 Lafayette, up stepped Doane. This time, the junior would not be denied as he hit a two-run blast to right – his team-leading seventh homer of the season – tying the score at 9.
Meanwhile, on the mound, freshman Joel Hockman had settled in. He came in to the game in the fifth, and held the Lafayette offense in check. Over his first three innings of work, Hockman did not allow a run, while striking out five.
For the first time since the top of the first inning, the Mountain Hawks finally regained the lead in the top of the eighth. Doane came up with a sac fly, scoring John Zaszewski with the go-ahead run.
Lehigh’s lead was short-lived, however, as the Leopards plated two in the bottom of the inning to go on top by an 11-10 count.
With two on and nobody out in the ninth, senior shortstop Eric Hoffman placed a perfect bunt on the left side of the infield to load the bases. Still trailing by a run, the momentum quickly changed as sophomore John Zaszewski ripped a two-run single to left, giving the Mountain Hawks the lead once again. However, Lehigh stranded two runners on base, and the Mountain Hawks went into the bottom of the ninth clinging to a one-run lead.
Lehigh’s closer Kyle Collina (2-3) was on the mound, having entered the game to work out of a jam in the bottom of the eighth. With two on and no outs in the ninth, Collina got Lafayette catcher Craig Alexander to strike out. Runners stood at first and second, and Lehigh was in search of a game-ending double play. A fielder’s choice moved both runners up 90 feet, but was the second out of the inning.
With the tying run at third base, and the winning run at second, it all came down to Leopards second baseman Jeff Rodgers, who had already driven in three runs on the night. Rodgers lifted a pitch to the gap in right center field, appearing to clinch the game for the Leopards. With Lafayette players beginning to run towards home plate in celebration, Lehigh right fielder Jeff Baker came into the picture. Baker, running at full speed to his right, lunged forward, brought his glove across his body, and made an incredible diving catch to end the game.
Zaszewski was 4-for-6 with three runs scored for Lehigh. Doane registered three hits while driving home four. Designated hitter and catcher Matt McBride had two hits and scored three times in the win.
The victory moves Lehigh into the championship game of the Liberty Bell Classic for the first time in school history. The Mountain Hawks will meet an opponent to be determined in a game that will be played at the sparkling new Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
The good news for fans that stuck out Tuesday night’s three hour, twenty-nine minute thriller: the two teams will square off for a crucial four-game series again this weekend, with playoff implications. All four games will be played at Lehigh’s Goodman Field. Saturday’s doubleheader gets underway at .