SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Lehigh baseball team (2-9) dropped a pair of games Friday at Santa Clara as part of the Jack Gifford Memorial Tournament. Lehigh fell 11-3 to Utah (3-10) in the first game of the day and then 5-3 to host Santa Clara (12-3) after Lehigh held a 3-2 lead in the eighth. The Mountain Hawks got a gutty performance from senior Cory Kent who went 6.0 innings allowing two earned runs while striking out six while senior Chad Warga had the go-ahead RBI in the sixth but Lehigh was unable to hold on.
The Mountain Hawks will look to rebound in their final game of their spring break trip to California as Lehigh takes on Columbia at San Jose Saturday at 4 p.m.
Both Lehigh and Santa Clara had plenty of chances as the Mountain Hawks left 11 runners on base while the Broncos stranded 12.
Kent – Lehigh’s closer – got the nod for the start, his first since March 12 of last season which Kent picked up the win in a 4-2 decision over Coppin State where he went 6.0 innings allowing one run on five hits and struck out five.
Lehigh fell behind early as Santa Clara took a 1-0 lead on a pair of hits in the bottom of the first. But the Mountain Hawks answered in the top of the second. Senior Joe Conaway led off with a double, but after a pop out and ground out, the Mountain Hawks were on the verge of wasting an early chance. Warga came up with the big hit though with a single up the middle to score Conaway to even the game at one.
In the bottom half of the inning, Kent worked in and out of trouble after Santa Clara had the bases loaded with two outs but Kent got the Broncos’ three-hitter to pop up to shortstop.
Santa Clara retook the lead in the bottom of the fourth. A one-out walk, stolen base and then RBI single gave the Broncos a 2-1 edge. After another stolen base, single and then balk, Santa Clara was threatening for more with runners on second and third but again Kent got out of the jam with a pop up to shortstop.
Lehigh had a chance to tie the game in the top of the fifth after putting runners on first and second with two outs, but couldn’t come through with the two-out RBI.
An inning later, Lehigh finally took advantage of its opportunities. With one out in the top of the sixth, junior Tyler Brong and Conaway hit back-to-back singles to put runners on first and second. Sophomore Brandon Wilt came up with Lehigh’s third straight single which drove in Brong to even the game at two. Junior Brandon Sady reached on a fielder’s choice as the Mountain Hawks had first and third with two outs. Again it was Warga who came up with the huge two-out RBI to give Lehigh a 3-2 lead, the Mountain Hawks’ first lead since their 3-0 edge at Davidson on February 26.
Santa Clara threatened in the bottom of the sixth with a pair of one-out walks. After a trip to the mound from head coach Sean Leary, Kent buckled down to get a pop out and fly out to get out of the jam.
Lehigh looked to add an insurance run in the top of the seventh after senior Brendan McGaheran got on with a leadoff single and advanced to second on a sophomore Joe Abeln SAC bunt. Junior Casey Turner then moved him over to third with a ground ball to the right side but this time, Lehigh couldn’t get the two-out RBI.
Senior Dan Ciccone came in relief of Kent to start the bottom of the seventh but was in trouble immediately after Santa Clara’s Peter Summerville reached on a throwing error and advanced to second. After the Broncos moved him to third on a SAC bunt, the tying run stood just 90 feet away. With no margin for error, Ciccone struck out back-to-back Broncos to maintain the one-run lead.
Still looking for some insurance runs in the top of the eighth, the Mountain Hawks had runners on second and third with one out after a Conaway single, who was then pinch ran for by freshman Justin Pacchioli, and a Wilt bunt single. Sady advanced them over with a bunt to put two runners in scoring position with one out but Lehigh could not take advantage, stranding both runners after a ground out and fly out.
After Lehigh’s lost opportunity, Santa Clara took advantage in the bottom of the eighth. With a runner on second with one out after a leadoff walk and SAC bunt, Andrew Biancardi hit what looked to be just a line drive to centerfield but it carried over Pacchioli’s head and rolled all the way to the wall for an inside the park two-run home run as Lehigh all of the sudden trailed 4-3. The Broncos then tacked on an insurance run after a triple and SAC fly.
While the Mountain Hawks’ blown lead could have deflated them, instead they fought back putting together a ninth-inning rally after McGaheran led off with a walk and junior Alex Jacquez singled over the head of the second baseman to put runners on first and third with nobody out. Turner struck out for the first out of the inning but With Elson at-bat, Jacquez stole second to stay out of the double play and move the tying run in scoring position. Elson struck out however and Pacchioli grounded out as Lehigh’s comeback attempt came up short.
Ciccone fell to 0-1 on the season while Max Deering got the win in relief, improving to 2-0 and Paul Twining picked up his fifth save of the season for the Broncos.
All 11 of Santa Clara’s hits came from the top five in their lineup, including leadoff hitter Matt Ozanne and Biancardi whom each went 3-for-4.
Lehigh had 12 hits, highlighted by Conaway’s 3-for-4 game while Warga finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Wilt also finished 2-for-4.
Prior to that tough loss, Lehigh dropped an 11-3 decision to Utah. In the top of the second, Lehigh threatened with runners on first and second and nobody out after back-to-back singles from Brong and Abeln. The rally stalled however after a foul out to the catcher followed by an inning-ending double play.
After Lehigh’s squandered opportunity, Utah capitalized in the bottom half of the inning. Utah loaded the bases with one out after a leadoff walk, pop out, hit-by-pitch and another walk. Connor Eppard then cleared the bases with a grand slam to right field. Freshman Jordan Smith was replaced by sophomore Joey McNamara who gave up a solo home run to his first batter as Lehigh trailed 5-0 after two innings as the Mountain Hawks dug themselves into a big hole.
Utah tacked on another crooked number in the bottom of the third as the Utes scored six runs on four hits while McNamara and junior Steven Ball combined to walk four in the inning.
In the top of the fourth, Lehigh got on the board with a pair of runs. Turner led off the inning with a walk and Jacquez followed that up with a single. After a fly out, Abeln lined a two-run double in the left-centerfield gap for his first two RBIs of the season.
Four innings later, the Mountain Hawks added another run. With one out, freshman Lance Kirschenbaum had a pitch-hit single and Conaway walked. Brong then singled up the middle to score Kirschenbaum.
Ball and senior Luke Porter combined to hold Utah scoreless over the game’s final five innings.
Smith took the loss (1-1), going 1.1 innings, allowing four runs on two hits. Lehigh pitchers combined for 10 walks to just two strike outs. Brock Duke earned the win (1-0) as he went 7.0 innings, allowing two runs on five hits. Eppard finished 3-for-4 with six RBIs and two runs scored.
Lehigh will have one more chance to pick up a win in California as the Mountain Hawks face Columbia Saturday at 4 p.m.
Photos courtesy of Michael Chen