BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh baseball team’s 2012 schedule is highlighted by the program’s first-ever trip to California where Lehigh will play eight games over the course of a week against some stellar competition including a three-game set at No. 25 Cal which advanced to the second round of the 2011 College World Series. The Mountain Hawks will also take on San Jose State, Utah, Santa Clara and Columbia.
“It’s really exciting for the kids in our program,” Leary said. “We are going to be playing in some beautiful stadiums against some outstanding competition which will certainly make us better. It’s not just a baseball opportunity, but it will be a great experience for them culturally and a great opportunity for our alumni on the West Coast to see us play, many of whom haven’t seen us before.”
Lehigh is coming off a 2-2 season-opening weekend in North Carolina where the Mountain Hawks split games with Davidson and Fairleigh Dickinson. Lehigh defeated Davidson 3-1 and FDU 8-7 before falling 9-1 and 6-3 to each, respectively.
Sophomore Nick Cassell picked up Lehigh’s first win of the season as he went 6.0 innings, allowing three hits and no earned runs. In the second game, freshman Jordan Smith earned the win in relief, going 3.1 innings allowing one run on three hits.
Senior Corey Kent picked up the save in both games and now has 20 career saves, which places him two behind Army’s Kevin McKague who is #2 on the league’s all-time career save list.
Offensively, the Mountain Hawks are paced by senior Ryan Gajdos who is hitting .583 (7-for-12) with three runs batted in, two runs scored and two stolen bases while freshman Justin Pacchioli is hitting .400 (6-for-15) with a pair of RBIs, three runs scored and four stolen bases.
Lehigh will be facing some stellar competition over the course of its eight games so Leary hopes that the trip will also serve as a teaching lesson about being mentally tough and how to handle not just success, but adversity as well.
"A lot of what we are going to gauge as coaches is how resilient we are when we hit those tough moments and they will come," Leary said. "The question will be how quickly do we work through them and grow from them? We are really going to rely on our upperclassmen to lead the way in getting the younger guys ready for those games. With a big win or tough loss, coaches can try to help the younger player but we really need our older guys to step up in hotels, locker rooms and bus rides. Our older group have been in those situations before and will definitely need to be leaders on and off the field."
No. 25 California
Lehigh will kick off its West Coast swing this weekend with three games against the nationally-ranked No. 25 California Golden Bears at Evans Diamond. The Mountain Hawks will take on Cal Saturday at 5 p.m. before a doubleheader Sunday at 2 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
At the end of last season, Cal had been ranked as high as No. 11 after the Golden Bears fell to No. 1 Virginia in the second round of the College World Series.
Cal is off to a 5-2 start this season. The Golden Bears swept Pacific before dropping two-of three at Long Beach State and most recently coming off a 5-3 victory vs. San Francisco.
Cal is led at the plate by junior second baseman Tony Renda, who is a First-Team Preseason All-American (Baseball America). Renda, who was the 2011 Pac-10 Player of the Year, was also picked as one of 50 athletes on USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award Watch list as the nation’s top amateur baseball player.
Renda has hit safely in all seven games and is batting a team-best .393 (11-for-28) with five runs scored, five walks and four stolen bases including twice stealing third. Junior designated hitter Vince Bruno is batting .364 (8-for-22) while junior left fielder Darrel Matthews is hitting .318 and is tied for the team lead with six RBIs (with sophomore first baseman Andrew Knapp).
On the mound, Lehigh will face Cal’s other All-American in junior left-hander Justin Jones, who led the Bears to an opening-day win, throwing 5.0 innings with four hits, one run, one walk and six strikeouts. The victory was Jones’ 20th career win, placing him tied for eighth on the Cal all-time career wins list.
Along with Jones, the Bears have been strong on the mound, owning a 2.47 team ERA, second-best in the Pac-12. Cal pitchers have allowed 17 earned runs in 62.0 innings with 36 strikeouts and 14 walks, and a .224 opponent batting average. After Jones on Saturday, Lehigh will face senior right-hander Matt Flemer, who is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in two starts and leads the conference with 15.0 innings pitched and has a .200 opponent batting average. After Jones and Flemer, Lehigh will be up against sophomore left-hander Michael Theofanopoulos, who is 0-1 with a 2.25 ERA in two starts.
And out of the bullpen, junior closer Logan Scott is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA and a save while senior right-hander Joey Donofrio is 1-0, has a 0.000 ERA, and has seven strikeouts and a walk in 6.0 innings.
The series will mark Lehigh’s first games against a nationally-ranked opponent since the Mountain Hawks opened their 2009 season against a No. 30 Southern Mississippi team which ended up playing in the College World Series that year. Lehigh kicked off its 2008 slate at No. 17 Virginia and later that season, faced No. 6 Miami which advanced to the second round of the 2008 College World Series.
San Jose State
After the three games in Berkeley, Lehigh will head to San Jose to face San Jose State on Monday, March 5 at 9 p.m. at Municipal Stadium. The Spartans are 2-5 to start the season as they dropped two-of-three to San Francisco before being swept in three games by UC Santa Barbara before deafeating Saint Mary’s (Calif.) 5-3.
San Jose State was picked to finish second in the Western Athletic Conference in the preseason poll while garnering three first-place votes. The Spartans return 12 letterwinners this season after going 35-26 in 2011.
Five different Spartans are hitting above .300, led by freshman outfielder Andre Mercurio at .385 (10-for-26). Senior first baseman Anthony Bona is right behind him at .381 (8-for-21) and leads the team in slugging percentage at .476 while sophomore infielder Caleb Natov leads the team with four RBIs.
On the mound, San Jose State pitchers have posted a .242 opponent batting average which is tops in the league and its 3.57 ERA is third best. The group is led by sophomore left-hander Johhny Melero, who despite an 0-2 start, has a 2.70 ERA and a 3-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 10.0 innings. In relief, the Spartans feature senior Estaban Guzman, a Second Team All-WAC honoree in 2011. Guzman has made three appearances including one start this season and has a 1.67 ERA in 5.1 innings with six strikeouts. Guzman was selected in the 17th round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Washington Nationals.
The Spartans have also done a stellar job defensively this season, committing just three errors in seven games and boast a conference-leading .989 fielding percentage. They have also turned six double plays on the year.
The Mountain Hawks will then have a couple days off before facing San Jose State again on Thursday, March 8 at 9 p.m. in the first of four games as part of the Jack Gifford Memorial Tournament which will be co-hosted by San Jose State and Santa Clara.
Utah (at Santa Clara)
Lehigh will then travel to Santa Clara the following day for a doubleheader against Utah at 4 p.m. and host Santa Clara at 9 p.m. Both games will be played at Santa Clara’s Stephen Schott Stadium, which hosted an NCAA Super Regional best-of-three game series between Dallas Baptist and Cal last season.
First up for the Mountain Hawks will be Utah, which is off to a 1-8 start but has faced some tough competition including UC Davis and Nebraska.
Junior catcher Parker Morin leads the team at the plate, hitting .355 (11-for-31) with 7 RBIs and has had at least one hit in each of Utah’s first eight games. Also senior infielder James Brooks is hitting .323 (10-for-31) with three doubles and a homerun and 5 RBIs as the duo has knocked in 13 of Utah’s 25 RBIs.
Utah also features senior outfielder Shaun Cooper who was selected as a Louisville Slugger Preseason All-American after Cooper was a First-Team All-Mountain West Conference selection last season. He has struggled early this season, though, off to 2-for-30 start with eight strikeouts.
On the mound, junior right-hander Tyler Wagner was named to the watch list for the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Award, given to the top relief pitcher in NCAA Division I baseball. Wagner led the Mountain West Conference in saves with 12, which also ranked #26 in the NCAA. This season, he is 0-1 in three appearances with six strikeouts in 4.2 innings.
In Utah’s lone win thus far, junior right-hander Joe Pond picked up the victory, allowing seven hits over six innings and one run. Last year, Pond went 4-4 in 12 starts with a 4.36 ERA and ranked 10th in the conference with 65 strikeouts while not allowing a home run.
Lehigh will take on host Santa Clara in the second game of the day. The Broncos are off to a 7-2 start including impressive wins over No. 22 Cal Poly, No. 35 Texas State and No. 37 Wichita State.
The Broncos are led at the plate by senior outfielder Lucas Herbst who is hitting .459 (17-for-34) with eight RBIs and 14 runs scored. Sophomore outfielder Pat Stover is right behind him at .359 (13-for-39) with one homerun, eight RBIs and nine runs scored. The duo has also combined for five stolen bases.
Santa Clara also features sophomore infielder Kyle DeMerritt who was named to the 2011 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American Team after he hit .280 with eight doubles and 27 RBIs last season. He is 5-for-22 with five RBIs to start this season while freshman outfielder/designated hitter CJ Jacobe, who is 3-for-6 to start the season, was drafted in the 45th round of the 2011 MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s out of high school.
On the mound, the Broncos are paced by sophomore left-hander Powell Fansler who is 4-0 in two starts with a 2.65 ERA, allowing five runs in 17 innings with nine strikeouts. Senior right-hander Paul Twining is 2-1 in relief plus a pair of saves as he has struck out nine in 8.1 innings.
Columbia (at San Jose)
The Mountain Hawks will cap off the Tournament and their California trip Saturday March 10 against Columbia at San Jose at 4 p.m. It will be the 18th meeting between the schools as Lehigh is 6-10-1 against Columbia. The schools met for the first time in 1886 with the most recent game taking place in 1966. Columbia has won eight of the last nine games with Lehigh’s last win coming 7-6 in 1963.
Columbia just kicked off its season Thursday, falling to The Citadel 4-1.
The Lions will rely this season on junior outfielder Dario Pizzano who was named to the College Baseball Insider preseason All-American Team. A two-time first team All-Ivy Leaguer, Pizzano led Columbia last season with a .359 batting average, 15 doubles, nine home runs and 36 RBIs. He walked 22 times and struck out just 18 times.
On the mound, Columbia will look to senior right-hander Pat Lowery who spearheads a staff that ranked second in the Ivy League in ERA last year after leading the league in 2010. Lowery started all nine games as Columbia’s first starter on the weekend and finished second on the team with 37 strikeouts.
For exclusive content, team updates and more, "Like" Lehigh Baseball on Facebook: www.facebook.com/LehighBaseball. You can also follow Lehigh Baseball on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lehighbaseball