BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh baseball team will head to Navy this weekend for its final regular season series, with doubleheaders set for Saturday and Sunday at noon. The Mountain Hawks hold their own fate, needing to win all four games to earn a Patriot League Tournament berth. Lehigh will look to senior Cory Kent in game one to get Lehigh off on the right foot. Kent has been stellar all season long on the hill and has done whatever it takes this season.
Before the season even began, head coach Sean Leary wanted to "push" the team. He needed something, anything to spark his team so Leary approached one of his senior leaders for help in doing so. It’s a tactic coaches use all of the time, but Leary’s choice was unusual.
It was Cory Kent, who will finish his Lehigh career as the greatest closer in program history. Kent enters this weekend with 22 career saves, which ranks No. 1 all-time at Lehigh and No. 3 in Patriot League history. Kent had 17 saves over his sophomore (nine) and junior (eight) seasons, the second-most over a two-year period in league history.
Kent made an immediate impact for the Mountain Hawks his freshman season. He had the second most appearances on the team with 18, starting three games, and had a team-high four wins. He also had the second lowest ERA on the team (3.76). Kent finished his freshman campaign with one save.
His sophomore season, Kent made starts in four of his first five appearances as one of Lehigh’s starters had went down with an injury. Kent struggled a little in the role, but he put himself first and did whatever the team needed. Once Kent was back in the bullpen for the rest of the season, he thrived, saving nine games and allowed just two runs in his final 16.1 innings pitched. With Kent’s dominance at the end of the bullpen, Lehigh made the Patriot League Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Kent earned Second Team All-Patriot League honors while his nine saves rank tied for the fifth most in a single season in league history.
After a year in which he solidified himself as the team’s closer and one of the best in the league, Kent led the team for the third straight season with 19 appearances in 2011. This time, Kent was only called upon to start just one game as the junior closer saved eight games.
In his first three years as a Mountain Hawk, Kent had totaled 55 appearances, 47 of those coming in relief. There was no doubt that Kent was the team’s closer entering his senior season and a dominant one at that.
With a pedigree like that, it is a risky move asking a player who has dominated in a position he clearly feels comfortable in to try somthing new. Leary asked Kent whether he would be comfortable playing some second base this season and also becoming the team’s game one starter, a spot usually given to the team’s ace. Kent didn't camplain, but took the challenge head-on without looking back.
"Once again, Cory attacked a challenge that was designed specifically to improve the team and in turn, overachieved and earned playing time," Leary said. "Cory’s attitude has been tremendous and has been a great example for other players that are asked to sacrifice for the team."
Kent’s versatility has been in full effect this season and his sacrifice hasn’t hurt his numbers one bit. In fact, they have never been better.
Of his 13 appearances, Kent has made a career-high seven starts this season. Of those seven starts, Kent has gone the distance in six of them which ties him for No. 2 in the nation. His 2.15 ERA leads the team, ranks No. 2 in the Patriot League and is Top 10 in single-season ERA leaders at Lehigh with a chance to crack the Top 5. He has thrown a career-high 54.1 innings while striking out a career-high 49 batters and walking just 13. Kent also has four saves this season, including locking down Lehigh’s season-opening win at Davidson on Feb. 24.
In the very next game, Kent was asked to come off the bench as a pinch-hitter, marking his first career at-bat. That very same game, Kent then came out of the bullpen to earn his second save in as many days.
On March 4, Lehigh was trailing No. 22 Cal 18-0 in the eighth inning. It was Kent’s fifth straight game without an appearance as the Mountain Hawks had been unable to get a lead thus Kent was stuck in the bullpen without save opportunites. The inning started with a single and a walk and then Leary called Kent’s number to pinch hit. Kent then blasted a three-run homer to left field for his first hit and RBIs of his career in just his second-ever at-bat.
Kent has 20 at-bats this season and has started two games at second base and one as a designated hitter. He is 6-for-20 with seven RBIs and two runs scored.
"I’ll do whatever to help the team win and Coach knows that," Kent said. "When he asked me to switch positions, I simply viewed it as a way to get on the field. Adjusting to different positions comes with age. Thankfully, I’ve learned the right way to deal with things and pride myself on being prepared for every situation."
Most of Kent’s success is due to his preparation and dedication of the game. He relishes the offseason workouts as much as the in-season achievements. His willingness to work on the areas of his game that need improvement sets him apart.
"Cory is a tremendous competitor and one of the best I’ve had the opportunity to coach," Leary said. "He’s very talented but has worked to his fullest potential to get the most out of his natural ability."
Kent was a typical kid growing up. The youngest of six kids, he enjoyed all sports, mainly football, wrestling and of course, baseball. Kent was adopted by his biological Aunt and Uncle, and considers them his "parents." Kent feels he owes everything to them, especially for helping jumpstart his baseball career.
"After they gained custody of me, the first place we went was to my older brother’s district baseball game," Kent said.
Kent’s career started with Tee-ball at the tender age of five and he hasn’t looked back since. He participated in little leagues most of his childhood and had the pleasure (and advantage) of receiving countless tips from his Dad. Even at a young age, his Dad instilled in him the importance of learning every position and Kent has taken it to heart.
In high school, Kent made Wilson’s varsity team his freshman year and not surprisingly, played multiple positions. He was asked to do a lot for a freshman as he pitched and played second base and shortstop. Kent primarily pitched and played shortstop his last three seasons. Kent set multiple school records as a pitcher in high school, posting an 8-2 record with a 1.64 ERA and 115 strikeouts. He hit .493 in his senior season and was named All-Area and Player of the Year in 2008 by both The Express Times and The Morning Call while he took home team MVP and All-League honors in his junior and senior seasons.
"The day I saw him, he immediately became a top recruiting priority for his class," Leary said. "He went out and beat the No. 1 seed in a legion playoff and was a bulldog on the mound."
Kent didn’t take long to commit to Lehigh. Everything felt right to him about the school. Aspiring to teach one day, Kent was impressed with the school’s College of Education program. His strong connections with Leary and fellow Lehigh Valley kids within the baseball program also helped.
Kent’s connections with his teammates are even stronger today and it’s the main reason most look up to him.
"Cory has a personality that meshes well with everyone else on the team," senior pitcher Dan Ciccone said. "He has fun while being competitive whenever he is on the diamond. His attitude and intensity has helped the team in many situations on the field."
"Cory leads by example and his teammates are really drawn to the confidence he exudes on the field," Leary added. "He does not allow his emotions to alter his performance and the younger players are fortunate to have the opportunity to watch and learn from one of the best pitchers I’ve had in my 17 years at Lehigh."
Kent’s teammates respect him for his work off the field as much as they do on it. Kent carries a 3.36 cumulative GPA in the classroom. He has been named to the Dean’s List while Kent graduated with a major in History in only three years and is currently a graduate student in the College of Education.
Kent was named to the Patriot League All-Academic Team in 2011 while being named to the league’s Academic Honor Roll in 2010 and 2011.
As his Lehigh baseball career winds down, Kent will miss the camaraderie of being around his teammates. It will be hard for Kent to walk away from this experience but he’ll volunteer coach with the team next season to help ease the transition. As for now, Kent still has business to take care of. He’s not thinking about the end of his Lehigh career and continues to impact his teammates with his selfless attitude.
"I want my teammates to respect what I’ve done and view me as someone who worked hard every day," Kent said. "You can’t replicate an experience like this which is why I’ll cherish and take advantage of it each day I’m here."
"Cory has truly left his mark on this program," Leary said. "Not only in the record books, but with the impact he has made on the younger players in our program. Cory’s influence will be seen in the future leadership of this program."
All four games this weekend in Annapolis, Md. will feature live stats and live video.
Written by Antoine Williams '12