BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Freshman Lisa Sweeney tossed a perfect game, and then combined with senior Kate Arico on a four-hitter as Lehigh won a pair of games on Friday to advance to the championship round of the Patriot League softball tournament at Kaufman Field. The top seeded Mountain Hawks downed Army 2-0 behind Sweeney’s gem in their first game of the tournament, and then shut out rival Lafayette by a 3-0 score. The wins improve Lehigh’s record to 40-12 on the season, and the Brown and White need just one win on Saturday to earn their third straight tournament title and NCAA Regional berth.
Pitching in her first Patriot League tournament game, Sweeney did not look like a freshman in the pitchers circle, as she set down all 21 Army batters she faced to move Lehigh into the winners bracket. Sweeney struck out 10 Black Knights and allowed just two balls hit out of the infield, as she improves to 25-4 on the season.
The Mountain Hawks pushed both of their runs across in the fourth inning. Lehigh got back-to-back-to-back singles from Mary Wieder, Julie Sterrett and Sweeney; Sweeney’s infield hit was mishandled by Army shortstop Lindsey Gerheim, allowing Wieder to score the game’s first run. Two batters later sophomore Megan Conrad executed a textbook squeeze bunt, which scored Sterrett and two runs proved to be plenty for Sweeney, who tossed her second no-hitter of the year and her ninth shutout.
Veronica Barth (7-16) took the loss for Army.
In their second game, the Mountain Hawks faced an upstart, much improved Lafayette team that defeated Colgate 1-0 in the tournament’s opening game. Arico continued Lehigh’s perfect pitching, retiring the first eight batters she faced, and held the Leopards without a hit until there were two outs in the fourth inning.
Arico helped her own cause at the plate, crushing Megan Averbuch’s first pitch of the third inning over the right centerfield fence to put Lehigh up 1-0. The blast was Arico’s first hit of the season and first career home run.
Lehigh extended its lead in the sixth inning, as Lauren Haney doubled off the fence in left centerfield and then Sterrett singled home pinch-runner Conrad to make it 2-0.
Lafayette threatened in the fifth and did not score, then threatened again in the sixth, placing runners at second and third with one out. Lehigh head coach Fran Troyan called on Sweeney out of the bullpen and the freshman responded with a strikeout and a ground ball to first to get out of the inning.
The Brown and White tacked on one more run in the seventh on a bases loaded walk to Wieder, before Sweeney shut the Leopards down in the seventh, striking out the side to earn her third save of the season. Arico earned her 13th win of the season, striking out one and allowing four hits in five and a third innings.
Lehigh pounded out 11 hits against the Leopards including two apiece from Haney, Sterrett and sophomores Kate Marvel and Taryn Hanley. Sterrett finished a combined 4-for-7 with a run scored and a RBI in Friday’s two games.
The wins move Lehigh into the championship series against Army on Saturday. The Black Knights staved off elimination, rallying past Colgate 4-3 in eight innings before eliminating Lafayette 3-1. This marks the third straight year the Mountain Hawks and Black Knights will do battle in the championship series. With the threat of thunderstorms Saturday afternoon, the first game on Saturday has been moved up to noon, with a seventh and final game, if necessary to be played at 2:00 pm. Lehigh needs just one win to capture the championship and qualify for the NCAA Regionals, while Army must defeat the Mountain Hawks twice tomorrow to take the title.
All of Lehigh’s postseason action will be broadcast online at lehighsports.com with streaming audio powered by Yahoo! Sports.
Photos © 2006, Mark Covelle. Used with permission.