Posted: May 9, 2009
BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Locked in a scoreless battle with rival Lafayette through seven innings, Lehigh rallied for nine two-out runs in the top of the eighth as the Mountain Hawks won their second straight Patriot League Tournament championship and fifth title in the last six years with a 9-0 win over the Leopards in eight innings Saturday at Kaufman Field. Senior Lisa Sweeney went 4-for-5 with three RBI and scored the winning run on Alex Cueva’s eighth inning RBI single. The Mountain Hawks (36-16-1) will now head to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
“We were just focused on making sure nobody left early,” joked Lehigh head coach Fran Troyan, who captured his seventh tournament title and Lehigh’s tenth overall. “Going to extra innings was something we didn’t expect but our kids did a great job of keeping their composure.”
With neither team able to plate a run through the first seven innings, Sweeney led off the eighth with a long double off the fence in left centerfield. Senior Alisha Gonzales sacrificed Sweeney to third, and after freshman Jen Colquhoun struck out, Cueva singled down the left field line to bring Sweeney home with the game’s first run.
“It felt really great to get that hit,” said Cueva. “There were two outs and I knew we needed to get that one big hit to keep Lafayette out of the game.”
Lehigh was not done however, as sophomore Mickey LaValley reached on a hard-hit single to second base and then classmate Carly Potock followed with a single to right that scored Cueva to make it 2-0. An infield single by freshman Audra Wood brought home LaValley to make it 3-0 and senior Whitney Lowe followed with a sharp single to left that scored Potock to give the Mountain Hawks some much needed insurance.
The Mountain Hawks were not finished though, as freshman Julie Fernandez drew a walk and Sweeney followed with a triple into the gap in right center, which cleared the bases, and then scored Lehigh’s eighth run when Lafayette’s Christina Giambrone mishandled a ground ball off the bat of Gonzales. Colquhoun capped the inning with a double to left that scored Gonzales to put Lehigh up 9-0. The Mountain Hawks ripped eight hits in the decisive inning and sent 13 batters to the plate.
“It was a great eighth inning,” explained Sweeney. “Alex had a really clutch hit that started it and everyone took off with it from there. We were struggling with our bats and Kasey Karr was pitching an amazing game, but after those hits we gained a bit of confidence and just went with it.”
Early on, Saturday’s game was similar to Thursday’s opening round game, which Lehigh won 1-0. Lafayette starter Kasey Karr had not allowed an earned run in 18.1 innings of work in the tournament heading into Saturday’s game, and certainly did her part to keep the Mountain Hawks at bay. Lehigh had just two hits through the first four innings, but the Mountain Hawks threatened in the fifth, sixth and seventh, but every time Karr was able to work her way out of trouble.
In the fifth, Lehigh capitalized on two Leopard errors to advance runners to second and third, but pinch-hitter Brooke Lewis grounded out to second on a fine play by Stacey Kushner to end the threat. The Mountain Hawks loaded the bases in the sixth but Cueva again grounded out to second to end the inning. Lehigh had runners on second and third with one out in the seventh, but consecutive groundouts to shortstop ended that threat.
On the other side, Sweeney also worked into-and-out of trouble to keep the Leopards at bay. Lafayette threatened in the fifth, with runners on first and second, but Sweeney struck out Emma Kline to end the frame. In the sixth, Lafayette loaded the bases with one out but Sweeney retired Kerry Griffin on a called third strike and got Kristen Garganio to pop out to Fernandez at third to end the threat.
After being staked to the nine-run lead, Sweeney retired the heart of Lafayette’s lineup in order in the bottom of the eighth, getting Kushner to pop out to Lowe at second to end the game and set off the celebration for the Brown and White.
Sweeney allowed just three hits in eight innings, while walking three and striking out eight. She improves to 22-8 on the season while the shutout was the ninth of the season for the four-time Patriot League Pitcher of the Year.
Karr was equally impressive throughout the tournament for Lafayette (17-29), throwing over 25 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run before allowing seven earned in Lehigh’s eighth inning. The Lafayette junior walked two and struck out five on the day, and going into the eighth inning had limited Lehigh to no runs and just four hits. Kushner had two of the three Lafayette hits off Sweeney, while LaValley and Potock joined Sweeney in having multi-hit games for Lehigh.
Sweeney was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player for the third time in her four seasons. She was 7-for-9 at the plate with six RBI and pitched every inning in the circle for the Mountain Hawks, throwing two shutouts and allowing just two runs in 22 innings. Sweeney was joined on the All-Tournament Team by fellow captains Gonzales and Lowe as well as sophomores Cueva and LaValley.
“It feels great, especially for us seniors,” said Sweeney. “We’ve had an awesome four years together, but this one especially means a lot to us.”
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 © 2009, Mark Covelle
Mountain Hawks Softball Post-Game Extra