Posted: May 14, 2006
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Lehigh captured its first-ever Patriot League baseball championship as the host and top-seed Mountain Hawks blanked No. 2 Bucknell by a 5-0 score on Sunday afternoon at Lehigh’s baseball field on the Goodman Campus. Sophomore All-Patriot League second team selection Joe Matteo pitched a complete game five-hitter, striking out seven to pick up the win and lead his team into the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Lehigh wins the best-of-three series, two games to none.
Lehigh, the designated visiting team, did not waste any time in jumping out to an early lead, picking up two runs in the top of the first. Singles from center fielder Joe Ercolano and catcher Matt McBride gave the Mountain Hawks runners at the corners with one out. After McBride swiped second – his 21st stolen base of the season, right fielder Nick Bet ripped a two-run single to right off Bucknell starter Nathan Mittag, making the score 2-0 in favor of the Brown and White.
In the third inning, the Mountain Hawks went on top by three, as McBride plated Ercolano with a sacrifice fly. Lehigh added two more in the sixth on a fielding error by Bucknell third baseman Ed Rubbo.
The run support was more than enough for Matteo, who pitched his first nine-inning complete game and fifth overall complete game of the season. Matteo (7-3) did not walk a batter, though he did hit three Bison hitters.
For his efforts, Matteo was named the tournament’s co-MVP, along with Lehigh senior pitcher Kyle Collina. Collina set down 18 straight Bucknell batters and struck out nine in a 14-2 victory in game one of the series on Saturday afternoon.
“I am so proud of these guys,” said Lehigh head coach Sean Leary following the win. “I wanted to stand aside and let them enjoy it. I’ve told them all along that this is their team. They’re the ones who went out there and got it done.”
The first three in the Mountain Hawks’ lineup had two hits apiece in the win, including Ercolano and McBride, along with third baseman Matt Geiger. Lehigh, which pounded out 17 hits in Saturday’s game one win, added ten more in Sunday’s triumph.
Lehigh second baseman Mike Sandonato was 4-for-9 at the plate in the two-game series, scoring five runs. As a team, the Mountain Hawks were 4-of-6 in stolen base attempts and put down five successful sacrifice bunts in the two game sweep.
Bucknell second baseman Brad Duvall went 2-for-3 at the plate Sunday, and reliever Jason Buursma pitched two and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief for the Bison, who end their season with a record of 24-24. Mittag (5-5) pitched 6.1 innings and was saddled with the loss.
Lehigh improves its record to 27-25 overall, and will await the NCAA tournament selection show on May 29 to find out its fate. The Mountain Hawks will make their first ever appearance in the NCAA Regionals beginning June 2 at a site and against an opponent to be determined.
All Lehigh post-season games will be broadcast live on the Lehigh web site at Lehighsports.com, with streaming provided by Yahoo! Sports. Potential local radio coverage will be announced at a later date.
Photos by Harry Fisher, (c) 2006 The Morning Call.