Posted: May 11, 2008
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – For the fourth time in five years, Lehigh is headed to the NCAA Regionals as the Mountain Hawks captured their ninth Patriot League tournament title with a 10-3 victory over arch rival Lafayette in the seventh and final game of the tournament, Sunday at Kaufman Field. The top three hitters in the Lehigh lineup, senior Kate Marvel and freshmen Carly Potock and Alex Cueva, combined to go 9-for-14 at the plate with six RBI while junior Lisa Sweeney dealt seven innings of three-run ball to pick up her 25th win of the season.
Lehigh improves to 38-15-1 with the victory. The Mountain Hawks had a chance to close out the tournament in six games, but they were beaten by Lafayette 2-1 in Sunday’s first game setting up the winner-take-all showdown. The Leopards season comes to an end at 27-24.
“It seemed like Lafayette put so much energy into winning the first game that they cracked a little bit in the second,” said Lehigh head coach Fran Troyan. “It’s something that happens a lot in sports. Our team battled and did a good job in the second game. The biggest difference was we staked ourselves to a lead, and at around the same time Lisa (Sweeney) found her second wind and settled in and that took some of the pressure off of us. We played better once we had the lead.”
Sweeney was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player after throwing all 13 innings in the circle for Lehigh on Sunday. She allowed three runs (one earned) and six hits in the clincher, while walking one and striking out eight. Sweeney took the loss in game one and is now 25-4 on the season.
After dropping Sunday’s opening game, Lehigh fell behind early in the deciding game as the first two Leopards reached base in the top of the first inning, and Kristen Ruckno delivered a one out sacrifice fly to give Lafayette a 1-0 lead.
The Mountain Hawks answered back in the bottom of the first, when junior Whitney Lowe smacked a two out bases-loaded single through the right side. Two runs scored on the hit itself and after an unsuccessful attempt to throw out Lowe trying for second base, a third run came home to put Lehigh up 3-1.
The lead would be short-lived however, as Lafayette responded with two runs in its next at bat. Stacey Kushner tied the game with a single to center, but those would be the final two runs scored by the Leopards on the day as Lehigh accounted for the final seven runs in the game.
In the bottom of the second Lehigh put together five consecutive singles. Cueva delivered the fourth of the five singles and her bases-loaded line drive to right field scored seniors Megan Conrad and Kate Marvel to put the Mountain Hawks up 5-3.
In the third, Lehigh extended its lead to 8-3 with three runs, all of which came with two outs. Senior Taryn Hanley opened the inning with a single and was sacrificed to second. Conrad grounded out for the second out, but Marvel picked up her classmate with a single and then freshman Carly Potock drove in Marvel from second with a single up the middle, the third of four hits for Potock in the game. Cueva capped off the inning with an RBI double down the right field line that landed just out of the reach of Robyn Matchett.
Sweeney limited the Leopards to just one hit after the third inning. Lehigh tacked on two final insurance runs in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Conrad and a double to left center by Marvel.
In the seventh, Sweeney retired the first two batters and after a hit batsman got Ruckno to pop out to Cueva at third base to end the ballgame.
“We really wanted to bring the title back to Lehigh,” said Conrad on the audio broadcast following the win. “For us seniors, we wanted to go out on a high note and this is the perfect way to do that.”
Lehigh out-hit Lafayette 15-6 in the deciding game. Marvel went 3-for-5 and drove in two runs. Cueva had two hits and three RBI, while Potock went 4-for-5 to notch her first career four-hit game.
Kasey Karr was saddled with the loss for Lafayette allowing five runs (two earned) on seven hits in an inning and a third. She falls to 11-9 with the loss.
The Mountain Hawks had their chances in the earlier game, out-hitting the Leopards 7-3 but Lehigh left eleven runners on base. An error by Lafayette’s Ali Henry allowed Hanley to score from second base in the top of the fourth inning, but the Leopards, the designated home team in game six, took the lead in the bottom of the fourth on a two-run double by Kerry Griffin. Lehigh had runners on base in every inning versus Leopard starter Ali Henry but squandered several quality opportunities to tie or take the lead.
“We were disappointed to lose the first game,” said Hanley. “But we came out full of confidence in the second game. We just felt we were the right team at the right time to do this.”
Sweeney pitched every inning of the tournament in the circle for Lehigh, going 3-1 with a 2.24 ERA. She was one of four Mountain Hawks named to the All-Tournament team, joining Whitney Lowe, Alisha Gonzales and Carly Potock.
“We knew we had it in us to play two today if we had to,” said Potock. “We didn’t’ hit as well as we can in the first game but we brought our bats in the second game, so we were able to bounce back. “
Lehigh will now await the NCAA selection show to find out where it is headed for regional tournament competition. The sites and pairings will be announced Sunday night at 10 p.m. EDT on ESPNU, available on Service Electric cable dial position 174.
No matter where the Mountain Hawks play next week, all the action can be heard live on 91.3 FM WLVR as well as Lehighsports.com, with the tandem of Steve Lomangino and Jeff Tourial calling the action.
Photos © 2008, Mark Covelle