Posted: 02/19/2013 | Last updated: February 19, 2013 at 12:25 PM
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh baseball team will take the field in 2013 with the hopes of building on its young talent to make a run at a second Patriot League crown. The Mountain Hawks will begin their journey for the 2013 Patriot League title featuring a young roster of 19 sophomores and freshmen along with the 12 seniors and juniors.
Lehigh will face a number of formidable opponents this year, many of which put together championship caliber seasons and produced multiple 2012 Major League Baseball First Year Player Draft picks. Lehigh will feature a deep pitching staff that consists of 15 right-handers and two southpaws along with a line-up that includes four catchers, eight infielders and eight outfielders (includes utility players that pitch and play the field).
The Mountain Hawks finished the 2012 campaign with an 18-31-1 overall record and a 6-14 mark in Patriot League play. Lehigh started Patriot League competition strong last season, sweeping the first doubleheader against crosstown rival Lafayette by scores of 3-1 and 10-2, but finished the season just one game shy of a Patriot League Tournament berth.
This year, the Mountain Hawks will get their crack at the defending Patriot League champion Army at the Goodman Campus baseball field on April 6-7 in what will be a four-game set consisting of two doubleheaders. Along with the four-game series at Lafayette and at home against Army, Lehigh will host Bucknell, travel to Holy Cross and host Navy for the remaining 12 games of Patriot League action on the 2013 slate. The series against the Mids on April 27-28 will conclude Lehigh’s 2013 regular season as the Mountain Hawks will be looking to build upon their split with Navy a season ago.
Lehigh will need to adjust to the loss of its power-hitting shortstop Brendan McGaheran as the senior graduated with a degree in history. The second team All-Patriot League selection led the team with four home runs and 57 hits throughout the 2012 season. Also departing from the infield was Ryan Gajdos and catcher Chad Warga.
Gajdos hit .292 with a homer and 23 RBI over 49 starts last year as a centerpiece of the Lehigh line-up. He also recorded 12 steals and scored 19 runs for the Mountain Hawks while posting a .339 slugging percentage in the middle of the order.
As a senior, Warga was also named to the second team All-Patriot League roster after starting 39 games and registering a .996 fielding percentage behind the plate. Offensively, Warga contributed with a .248 average and 14 RBI.
“We’re grateful as to what they brought to the table, but now there are opportunities for other guys that have been working very hard,” said Lehigh head coach Sean Leary. “We are appreciative of what they have done and their accomplishments, but we look at it as opportunities for this year’s squad to get their chance at those roles.”
Second team All-Patriot League designated hitter Tyler Brong is the leading returning hitter for the Mountain Hawks after the Bethlehem native hit .319 with nine doubles, 17 RBI and a .398 slugging percentage as a sophomore. Brong gained extensive experience at first base this summer, and is expected to be a mainstay at the position in the spring.
Sophomore Justin Pacchioli will anchor the line-up from the leadoff spot and provide speed in the outfield. The Easton, Pa. native hit .280 over 24 games (23 starts) while showcasing his agility on the base paths, racking up 11 steals throughout his freshman season. Joining Pacchioli in the outfield will be Casey Turner who returns for his senior season after starting 47 games for the Brown and White last year. Turner hit .281 with eight doubles and 19 RBI as a part of the everyday Lehigh line-up as a junior.
Two other players that saw significant time in the outfield last season were junior Brandon Wilt and sophomore Lance Kirschenbaum. Wilt made 37 appearances (30 starts) and hit .242 with four doubles, a homer and 10 RBI. Kirschenbaum played in 21 games, making seven starts and hit .237 with three doubles and three RBI. The two will compete for playing time as a part of the Mountain Hawk outfield this season. Fellow sophomore Pat Walshe will provide depth in the outfield and a strong option for the designated hitter or another hitting role.
Sophomore Connor Faust will be looking to build on a solid freshman campaign in which he hit .311 over 33 games for the Mountain Hawks. Faust also posted a .400 slugging percentage and was a vacuum at the corner infield positions, committing just one error and registering a .995 fielding percentage with 197 putouts.
Fellow sophomore John Elson saw significant playing time in the middle infield, making 33 appearances and 19 starts throughout the 2012 season. Elson hit .258 a year ago and was one of four Mountain Hawks to leave the yard more than once, blasting two homers to join graduated seniors Joe Conaway, Brendan McGaheren and teammate Joe Abeln to have ripped multiple round trippers.
Behind the plate, Leary has many options to fill the void left by Warga. Pacchioli and sophomore Tim McKay both have experience as backstops. The suitor behind the dish will be junior Joe Abeln. As a sophomore, Abeln smacked a second-best 10 doubles and knocked in a team-leading 25 RBI en route to his second team All-Patriot League outfield selection.
“Our position players have really put in a great offseason,” said Leary. “The guys we have positioned to be in the middle of the order have really put a great deal of time in at the gym and have had a tremendous offseason. Our speed guys are training at the skill sets that they will need to contribute to the team and we’ve had a very productive October through January. The most important thing those guys will need now is experience in order to get comfortable with their responsibilities in the line-up.”
On the mound, the Mountain Hawks lose second team All-Patriot League selection Cory Kent who led the team with a 1.88 ERA, a 4-3 record and a team-best five saves a season ago. Lehigh will look to a strong junior class that includes Nick Cassell, Colin Gotzon and Mike Burke, among others, to lead the 2013 staff. Cassell started 10 games for Lehigh in 2012, appearing in 12. He will be looking to build upon his sophomore season, as will Gotzon who appeared in 12 games, making six starts on the bump. Mike Burke started just two games last season, but appeared in 13 for the Mountain Hawks.
Juniors Joey McNamara and Jayme Edwards will supply depth to the staff as each has accrued experience over their first two seasons as Mountain Hawks. McNamara logged 13.0 innings last season for Lehigh, posting a 2-0 record in 13 appearances, mostly out of the bullpen. Edwards has pitched 32.2 innings as a Mountain Hawk striking out 30 over nine games (seven starts).
Seniors Thomas O’Malley, Steven Ball and Cameron Phillips will also provide a mix of experience and depth on the hill for Lehigh. O’Malley racked up 25 punch outs over his 29.0 innings of work and will begin the season as the primary reliever which includes closing duties. Ball made 10 appearances out of the bullpen for the Mountain Hawks last season, logging 11.1 innings and seven strikeouts. Phillips did not see action last season, but the senior has logged 48.0 innings of work throughout his career at Lehigh, making 20 appearances and six starts as a Mountain Hawk.
Coupled with the juniors and seniors, a few other arms will need to play significant roles for a successful season. Sophomores Nick Stephens and Jordan Smith could be called upon to toss valuable innings for the Mountain Hawks. Stephens assumed the role as a weekend starter for Lehigh as a freshman, logging 43.0 innings over 10 appearances (nine starts), while Smith appeared in 11 games, making five starts and logging 27.1 innings of work. Fellow sophomore Josh Flyer will need to build on a solid freshman campaign that saw him pitch to a 2-0 record over 12.1 innings.
Along with Flyer, Stephens and Smith, southpaw Rene Tato will be a valuable piece of the pitching staff for Leary as he is just one of only two left-handers on the squad. Tato pitched to a 1-2 record and 5.14 ERA as a freshman, mostly out of the bullpen as he made 10 appearances and three starts. Another option out of the pen will be left-hander Nick Macaione. During his freshman season, Macaione appeared in 12 games for the Mountain Hawks, registering 14 strikeouts over 19.0 innings of work.
“On the mound, we have guys that have experience but we’re looking for guys to assert themselves into the roles of the rotation,” said Leary. “The competition has been terrific. The objective of the first month of our season will be to solidify the backend of our bullpen. Our guys are chomping at the bit to get out there.”
A few newcomers could make some noise in the line-up and on the mound this season as freshman Mike Garzillo will compete for a starting position in the middle infield. Garzillo was a local standout at Nazareth Area High School, earning two All-Area first team selections by The Morning Call and The Express Times, as well as the 2011 Morning Call Baseball Player of the Year honor. Fellow freshmen Mackey Price and Anthony Rinaldi will also compete for time in the middle infield as the two bring with them multiple All-Area selections and athletics accolades, while Zach Gray will provide depth at the corner positions as the talented newcomers continue the journey through their inaugural collegiate seasons.
Freshman Kevin Long will also be competing for significant time on the mound. Long comes to Lehigh from nearby Hatboro, Pa. in which he excelled at La Salle College High School. While there, he earned numerous accolades including championships and state titles. Coupled with long, freshmen arms Kevin Boswick, Joe Kotler, and Brandon Kulp will also compete for time out of the bullpen as the newcomers have yet to showcase their talent on the collegiate stage, bringing excitement and anticipation to the season.
“The group of young men we work with every day have been extremely coachable,” said Leary. “We can’t wait to reward them with the opportunity to get to play a game. The big picture is we all just can’t wait to get out there and see where the season is going to take us. The excitement level is about as high as it can be, we just need to maintain it until the first game.”
The journey for the 2013 Mountain Hawks begins on February 22 with a trip to Wilmington, N.C. for a three-game set with the defending Colonial Athletic Association champion and preseason favorite UNC-Wilmington Seahawks, slated to start at 4 p.m.
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