Posted: February 21, 2008
BETHLEHEM, Pa. - After failing to make the Patriot League Tournament for the first time in six years, the Mountain Hawks will look towards a group of younger players to bring them back to the post-season. Last year eight freshmen and sophomores saw significant playing time, including three everyday starters. The Brown and White have also only lost four seniors to graduation, leaving a majority of last year’s lineup still intact.
The Mountain Hawks will only return one starting outfielder from last year’s team, senior Joe Ercolano. In his fourth year as a starter, Ercolano is one of the premiere hitters in the Patriot League, with a career average of .345. As the leadoff man for most of the season, he led the team in runs (36) and walks (20), and was named to the All-Patriot League second team. He also has speed on the base paths, tying for the team lead with 13 stolen bases. By seasons end, he may own several school records, including runs, hits, and average.
Expected to fill the other two outfield spots are freshmen Logan Marshall and Bill Goldman. Marshall is a Bethlehem native and went to nearby Notre Dame High School. The lefthander was an all-state selection and set school records in average and RBI. Goldman, also left-handed, went to Penn Charter High School, where he was a three time all-league selection.
Also expected to compete for time in this deep outfield this season is junior Mark Bernhard, sophomores Josh Harakal, Christian Valeriano and Danny Egly and freshmen Andy Russell and Ross Biggs. Bernhard started three games in left field at the beginning of the season, however, after getting off to a slow start he did not see much more playing time. As a freshman, Harakal started eight games, seeing time in the outfield and at designated hitter. In just 25 at bats, he hit .200, drove in four runs, and had an on base percentage of .259. Valeriano split time between outfield and designated hitter last season, recording 10 hits and scoring five runs. Egly appeared in 12 games, scoring one run and had an on-base percentage of .235. He also made six appearances on the mound, giving up five runs on 10.1 innings of work.
Russell was a two-time All-League honoree in high school and in 2007, he was named to the All-Southeastern Pennsylvania team by the Philadelphia Inquirer. Biggs comes to Lehigh from Liberty High School, where he was a first team All-Conference member in 2007 and a two-time honorable mention for the All-Area team.
Lehigh looks to be very strong in the infield, returning four of five starters from last year’s team. Behind the plate will be sophomore Billy Swenson who had an outstanding freshman season. He started 32 games behind the dish and hit a team high three homeruns. His .337 slugging percentage and 19 RBI both ranked fifth on the team. Swenson also proved he can play field, committing only two errors in 159 chances.
At first base, the Mountain Hawks will return starter Dan Clauson, who claimed the position as only a freshman last season. He is a very patient hitter at the plate, finishing second on the team with 18 walks and a team high .400 on base percentage.
Freshman Brendan McGaheran is projected to get the start at second base. McGaheran went to Nazareth High School, where he was a three time All-Area selection and was named to the All-Lehigh Valley first team as a senior.
At the hot corner, junior Matt Reitz will try to continue his hot play from last season. Before succumbing to injury halfway through the season, he was leading the team with a .373 batting average and had 18 RBI in just 23 games.
The cornerstone of the Lehigh infield is senior shortstop Liam O’Connor. O’Connor had a career year last season, hitting .342, driving in 23 runs and had a slugging percentage of .414. Prior to the 2006 season, he had never hit above .300 or had a slugging percentage above .320. He is also a great situational hitter, as he led the team with five sacrifice hits.
Junior Geoff Campbell and sophomores Patrick Groome and Glenn Seitz will be back up the infield, filling in as utility players. In his rookie campaign, Groome hit .233 and drove in seven runs, while making 14 starts at second base. Seitz started 11 games as a freshman, driving in four runs and had an on base percentage of .289. Campbell is a rare two-way player, making 32 starts in the infield, while also appearing in nine games as a relief pitcher. He did not let his double duties faze him last year, as he drove in nine runs, scored eleven, and only gave up seven earned runs on the mound.
Also providing back-up at the corners will be freshmen Joe Bellini and Austin Borden. Bellini was an All-Area, All-County and All-Conference selection at the Delbarton School in New Jersey. Borden played at State College High School, where he earned second team All-League honors.
The pitching staff is led by senior Joe Matteo. After having an off year in 2007, the Mountain Hawks will look for him to return to his 2006 form, in which he went 8-3, with a 3.80 ERA and five complete games, earning second team All-Patriot League honors. Sophomores Andrew Berger and Gregory Angelo are also expected to take on the starting role. Last season Berger made ten appearances out of the bullpen, while also starting three games, and was second on the team with a 3.99 ERA. He was able to hold left-handed hitting opponents to a stifling .083 batting average against. Angelo made four starts and 13 total appearances last season, recording a 1-4 record with a 5.73 ERA.
Coming out the bullpen will be junior Greg Mortka. Mortka pitched 26.2 innings, and was the only pitcher with a winning record, at 4-3. He recorded 15 strikeouts while issuing only eight walks and just seven extra base hits.
Also appearing out of the bullpen will be seniors Andrew Grimm and Billy Alec, juniors Bill McDonnell and sophomores Rob Russell and Ken Longernecker. That group had 54 combined appearances last year for the Mountain Hawks. Sophomore Jordan Warncke, who is coming off an injury, will also see time when he is healthy.
Three freshmen, Kevin Mihalik, Mike Lebo and Jimmy McConlogue could all also compete for innings this year. All three players were multi-year members of their Carpenter Cup teams in high school.
The Brown and White open its season this weekend, playing four games against No. 17 University of Virginia. The teams begin the series on Saturday with a doubleheader starting at noon, and close out the series with another doubleheader on Sunday beginning at 11 a.m.