BETHLEHEM, Pa. – With the season opener looming just over a month away, head coach Sean Leary unveiled his 2013 Lehigh baseball schedule which will kick off with a trip to Wilmington, N.C. to face the defending Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) champion and CAA preseason favorite UNC-Wilmington Seahawks on February 22-24. Leary and the rest of the Mountain Hawks will be looking to build on their 2012 season with a challenging 2013 slate and earn a spot in the Patriot League Tournament.
"The objective every year of our non-league schedule is to prepare us for the Patriot League," said Leary. "The schedule is designed to challenge us and traveling to Wilmington will be a great test for our team. Each weekend after that is set up in a format to try and prepare our pitching staff and line-ups for Patriot League play."
After the three-game set in North Carolina, the Mountain Hawks will travel to Princess Anne, Md. for two games against Maryland Eastern Shore before a four-game series against Iona at a neutral site location yet to be determined. Iona will prove to be a tough test for the Mountain Hawks in the early going as the Gaels exhibit a rich tradition of producing talented baseball players from 2012 draft pick Chris Burke (San Diego Padres, 18th round) to Word Series champion closer Jason Motte of the St. Louis Cardinals.
After one game at Rider on March 6, Lehigh will begin a southern swing with three games at Coppin State in Baltimore on March 9-10 before returning to North Carolina to play at UNC-Greensboro on March 12. Lehigh will conclude the trip to the south with a tilt against North Carolina A&T on March 13.
After the two games in the Tar Heel State, the Mountain Hawks will journey back north for three-games against Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Md. on March 16-17.
"Every year we’ve made it a distinct focus for our guys to challenge them with different experiences in different parts of the country," Leary said. "We’re going to be playing in North Carolina and Maryland more than Florida and California as in recent years. When we do that, we’re looking to challenge ourselves at the highest level, but also to play teams that we haven’t played before."
Lehigh will then host Temple in the home opener on March 19 at 3 p.m. before a three-day break followed by a three-game home and home series against Long Island University beginning on March 22. Temple will be yet another strong opponent on Lehigh’s schedule. Despite finishing 19-34 last season, the Owls produced 32nd round draft pick Steve Nikorak (Chicago White Sox, 981st overall).
The Mountain Hawks will then travel to Brooklyn, N.Y. to face LIU for a double-header on March 23 before traveling to Philadelphia to play the Temple Owls for the second time on March 26. Long Island will feature a top prospect on this year’s roster as RHP Justin Topa came in at No. 81 on Baseball America’s Top 100 collegiate prospects in the United States.
On March 27, Coppin State will make its trip to the Goodman Campus baseball field to take on Lehigh in the final game before league play begins.
The Mountain Hawks will travel to Easton, Pa. to kick off Patriot League play on March 30 against the Lafayette Leopards for the second consecutive season. Last year, Lehigh swept the Leopards in the opening double-header before conceding two games to Lafayette the next day.
Lehigh will continue with Lafayette the following afternoon with two more games in Easton, Pa. before hosting a Liberty Bell Classic second round game on April 2 which will start a 12-game home stand. The Mountain Hawks have advanced to five Liberty Bell Classic finals, winning the 2004 Classic which was the first to be played at Citizens Bank Park when Lehigh defeated Villanova 11-3.
After the Classic, Lehigh will host former assistant coach Brian Hirschberg’s Drew University squad on April 3. The Mountain Hawks will then play four games against the defending Patriot League champion Army Black Knights on April 6-7 on the Goodman Campus baseball field.
Drew University won the Landmark conference last season, finishing 9-9 in regular season conference play before upsetting top-seeded Moravian in the championship game 10-9. The Black Knights had two players drafted into professional baseball from last year’s brigade as senior catcher J.T. Watkins and fellow senior Kevin McKague were selected by the Boston Red Sox (10th round) and Atlanta Braves (23rd round), respectively.
A single game against Delaware State on April 10 will break up Patriot League competition before Bucknell visits Bethlehem for four games on April 13-14. The Bison finished one game ahead of Lehigh in the Patriot League standings last season with a 7-13 league record but did not make the tournament. Delaware State finished a strong 2012 campaign 40-17-1 before falling to Bethune-Cookman in the MEAC Championship game, 8-3.
After three days off, the Mountain Hawks will return to action on April 17 against Penn and follow that game with a four-game set in Worcester, Mass. against Holy Cross on April 20-21. Penn will provide another tough non-league opponent for the Mountain Hawks, as the Quakers finished 17-23, 8-12 in the Ivy League a year ago and produced 15th round draft pick Vince Voiro (Oakland Athletics, 469th overall). Holy Cross also had a player selected in the draft as senior southpaw Nate Koneski was taken by the Seattle Mariners in the 19th round (581st overall).
On April 24, the Mountain Hawks will play their final non-league game when they travel to Seton Hall at 2:30 p.m. The Pirates will challenge the Mountain Hawks’ bats as they feature the preseason Big East Pitcher of the Year in senior RHP Jon Prosinski as well as a pitching staff that posted a team ERA of 3.60 last season.
The Pirates advanced to the Big East Championships last season, falling to Notre Dame 9-0 at Bright House Field in an elimination game that took place in Clearwater, Fla. Seton Hall also featured a player taken in the 2012 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft as junior Ryan Harvey departed early from the Pirates when he was selected 576th (18th round) overall by the Texas Rangers.
The Navy Midshipmen will conclude the 2013 regular season for Lehigh when the Mids travel to the Goodman Campus on April 27-28 for the final four-game set of the season. Navy produced two MLB draft picks last summer as outfielder Alex Azor was taken by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 10th round (325th overall) and sophomore RHP Preston Gainey was selected one round later by the Milwaukee Brewers (365th overall).
In total, the Patriot League had five players selected in the 2012 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft, showcasing the talent of the league and the growth of Northeast baseball.
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