BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh softball team will begin its quest to top last season’s success with six games over a four-day span at the Wolfpack Challenge in North Carolina. The Mountain Hawks will open against North Carolina State Thursday at 6 p.m. and will play Kent State and Pittsburgh on Friday, Toledo and Pittsburgh again on Saturday, and cap their weekend with a match-up against Georgetown on Sunday.
Lehigh finished last season with an impressive 33-23 record with 14 of those wins coming against Patriot League foes. The Mountain Hawks won their 11th Patriot League title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament where their season ended with losses against Baylor and Maryland.
The Mountain Hawks are not satisfied with last season’s success and have their sights set on another run at the NCAA Tournament. With a number of key players returning, Lehigh will look to build on last year’s success. Lehigh’s trio of captains, seniors Julie Fernandez and Audra Wood and junior Liz Lucas, will all be looked upon for contributions this season. The trio accounted for the team’s top three hits leaders last season. Fernandez has been outstanding at first base the last three years and was second on the team in batting average last season (.364). Lucas serves as the team’s primary catcher and her power hitting will once again prove valuable. Lucas led the team in home runs (10), RBI (48) and batting average (.380) last season. Lucas’s defensive prowess behind the play will be just as important. The Mountain Hawks’ left fielder, Wood led the team in runs scored last season (43) while also batting .280 from her leadoff spot.
Along with the captains, Lehigh will also look for its three returning starting pitchers to build on last season’s steady improvements. Junior Rebecca Bliss and sophomore Ashley Quigley finished with 15 and 13 wins, respectively, while sophomore Kelsey Lee led the team with a 2.93 ERA.
The Wolfpack of North Carolina State entered this season with high hopes but have gotten off to a slow start thus far. They have already played eight games, going 3-5. The Wolfpack come into the game against Lehigh on a four-game losing streak after winning three of its first four games. The team’s hitting ability has been one of its strengths this season as three players currently bat over .330. Wolfpack starting pitcher Emily Weiman has been solid in the circle posting an impressive 1.67 ERA to go with a 3-4 record. The Wolfpack went 3-1 at the Red and Black Showcase in Athens, Georgia, before dropping all four of their games last weekend at the Texas A&M Tournament.
Kent State has also endured a slow start to the 2012 season as they’ll enter Friday’s game against Lehigh on a four game losing streak, dropping for straight at the UNLV Sportco Kickoff Classic after winning their season opener. The Golden Flashes went 20-31 record last season and the team has had a rough start offensively this season, batting .116 through their first five games.
The Mountain Hawks will get two cracks against Pittsburgh this weekend. The Panthers have lost two of their first three games this season, splitting with Illinois and dropping a 7-2 decision to Texas last weekend in Austin. The squad had a strong 2011 season en route to posting a 34-17 record. Pittsburgh returns six starters from last season including All-Big East selections Kelly Hmiel and Holly Stevens.
Toledo has endured a 1-4 start to its 2012 season competing at the Fresno State kickoff. The Rockets are looking to improve on an 8-43 campaign last season. The Rockets have a young starting pitching rotation which is comprised entirely of freshmen. The three youngsters have combined for a rough 5.01 ERA. A bright spot for the team has been freshman Alyssa Smith, who is batting.429 over Toledo’s first five games.
Georgetown has enjoyed a solid start to its season as the Hoyas have compiled a 5-2 record and enters the weekend on a three-game winning streak. Last weekend, Georgetown went 3-0 at the USC-Upstate Tournament in South Carolina. The Hoyas will be the best hitting team statistically Lehigh will face all weekend. The team is batting .318 overall led by Cara Savarese’s .417 batting average.
The Mountain Hawks will be meeting NC State, Kent State and Pittsburgh for the first time. Lehigh does have limited history with Toledo and Georgetown, splitting two meetings with the Rockets in 2004 and 2005, while defeating Georgetown 5-0 in 2007.
Lehigh’s evening game against North Carolina State will begin at 6 p.m. Thursday from Dail Softball Stadium in Raleigh, N.C. The team will face Kent State at 10 a.m. Friday followed by a noon start against Pittsburgh. The Mountain Hawks will have two early starts on Saturday as they’ll play Pittsburgh at 9 a.m. and Toledo at 11 a.m. The team will conclude weekend play with a 9 a.m. start on Sunday against Georgetown.