Posted: May 28, 2006
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh bats exploded for 18 runs and 16 hits, and the Mountain Hawks took advantage of four Princeton miscues as host Lehigh rolled to an 18-4 victory over the visiting Tigers at the baseball field on Goodman Campus Sunday afternoon. Five Lehigh players had two or more hits in the win, which gives the Brown and White a 28-26 record heading into the NCAA Tournament next week. Princeton will head to the NCAAs with a record of 19-24-1.
“This feels good heading into next week,” said Lehigh head coach Sean Leary after the win. “We wanted to play better than we did yesterday, and build some momentum [for the NCAA Regionals], and I think we accomplished that here today.”
Under a blazing sun and soaring humidity levels, the Mountain Hawks wasted little time in getting things going. In the home half of the first, center fielder Joe Ercolano led off the inning with a walk. After stealing second base, Ercolano scored on an RBI single to center from Matt Geiger to make the score 1-0. The next batter, catcher Matt McBride, ripped a double to right-center field, scoring Geiger. Two batters later, right fielder Nick Bet singled home McBride. With runners at second and third and two away, designated hitter Jeff Benfield smacked a double to left-center, scoring Mike Sandonato and Bet, making the score 5-0 through just one inning of play.
Lehigh continued to pour it on early, adding five more runs in the second inning. Included in the second inning outburst was an RBI single from Bet and a two-run triple by Sandonato. The next batter, left fielder Mark Bernhard, singled home Sandonato, giving the Mountain Hawks a 10-1 lead after just two innings.
Michael Zaret (2-3) started the game for the Tigers, lasting just two innings. In the bottom of the third, the first pitch thrown by Princeton reliever Brad Gemberling was hit over the wall in right by Ercolano – who was leading off an inning for the third straight frame – for his fourth homer of the year. The Mountain Hawks added a second run, albeit unearned, and led 12-1 heading to the fourth.
An RBI single in the sixth inning from shortstop Liam O’Connor put Lehigh up by a 13-1 score. In the seventh, first baseman Andrew Smith notched a two-run double to make the score 15-1.
The Mountain Hawks’ final home at-bat of the season was memorable, as the Brown and White plated three more in the eighth. A one-out double from Ercolano and subsequent triple from Geiger put LU up 16-1. The next batter was McBride, the Patriot League Player of the Year. He uncorked a two-run homer over the wall in left, putting the Mountain Hawks on top, 18-1.
The Tigers scored three times in the ninth thanks to five hits, making the final score 18-4.
Despite the combined 22 runs, 30 hits, and four errors, the game wasn’t all about great offense. Each team made some dazzling plays in the field, including terrific defensive efforts from Geiger and O’Connor of Lehigh, thwarting potential Tigers rallies. The play of the game, however, may have come in the bottom of the second, when Princeton left fielder Micah Kaplan went back to the wall and made a leaping catch, robbing O’Connor of what would have been his first collegiate home run.
Lehigh sophomore Joe Matteo scattered nine hits in six innings of work on the hill to earn the win, improving his record to a team-best 8-3 on the season. Seniors Jed Davitt and Joe Raniszewski, along with junior Joel Hockman, each threw an inning of relief out of the bullpen for Lehigh.
At the plate, Geiger was 3-for-4 with five runs scored to pace the Mountain Hawks. Bet was 3-for-5 with two scored and two driven in, Sandonato had a pair of hits and three runs scored, and McBride drove home three.
All told, Lehigh had eight extra-base hits in the win. Lehigh’s 18-run outburst marked the eleventh time this season that the Mountain Hawks have scored ten or more runs in a game.
Princeton third baseman Spencer Lucian led the Tigers efforts with a 3-for-4 day at the plate, notching an RBI double, and later scoring a run.
Lehigh’s win was the first for the Brown and White over Princeton since a 3-1 Lehigh victory in 1995.
Lehigh and Princeton will both be back in action on Friday, June 2, in the NCAA Tournament at sites to be determined. The Mountain Hawks will be making their first-ever trip to the NCAAs. Tournament selections will be announced at 12:30 pm on Monday, with a selection show airing live on ESPN (Service Electric dial position 24).