BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh softball program will be bidding for its third consecutive Patriot League title and eighth in the last ten years in 2013. With the start of preseason camp right around the corner, head coach Fran Troyan has announced the Mountain Hawks’ schedule; a challenging slate that features three early-season tournaments and five games against teams that competed at the NCAA Regionals last season.
The Mountain Hawks won their 12th Patriot League title in 2012, advancing to the NCAA Regionals for the seventh time in the last nine years. Lehigh competed against eventual national runner-up Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.
For the fifth time in six seasons, Lehigh will open its season in North Carolina and for the second time in three years, the Mountain Hawks will open a season in Greenville, as Lehigh will play five games in three days at the ECU Pirate Invitational, February 22-24. The Mountain Hawks will open their season against Liberty February 22 at 10 a.m. before facing host East Carolina later that day. Lehigh will meet Fairfield and ECU on Saturday before wrapping-up tournament play against NCAA tournament participant Notre Dame on February 24.
“We have a very ambitious but balanced schedule for this year,” explained Troyan, who enters his 18th season. “We start out at end of February making trip to East Carolina. We will see some very competitive teams, in Liberty, East Carolina and Fairfield, plus Notre Dame and there’s a good chance they’ll be a top 25 team. Out of gates we’ll get a chance to see where we’re at and hopefully we’ll get our sea legs a little bit.
Troyan continued, “The most important part of the early part of the season is to play a competitive schedule to see exactly what we have to work on. Each year is a little bit different, but you never know what you have until you play competitive games.”
Lehigh will play five games in three days the following weekend at the TU Invitational hosted by Towson, March 1-3. In addition to taking on the host Tigers, Lehigh will play two games against defending MAAC tournament champions Iona as well as the first two of five games on the schedule against Ivy League foe Columbia.
The following weekend, Lehigh will head to Kissimmee, Florida for its annual spring break trip to the Rebel Spring Games. The Mountain Hawks will play ten games in a six day span from March 10-15. Included in that mix are two meetings apiece with North Dakota, Eastern Illinois, and Robert Morris. Lehigh will also see Butler, Saint Peter’s, Wagner and Columbia in Florida.
“We will play a competitive schedule on spring break,” Troyan said. “What we use spring break for is to figure out what our lineup is going to look like come Patriot League play. We will play with some different combinations and we’ll see what works and see what the chemistry looks like.”
Upon returning from spring break, Lehigh will play a doubleheader at Penn on March 20, before opening up its home slate with a four-game series against Niagara, March 23-24 at Kaufman Field. Lehigh won its last 15 home games in 2012 and carries the nation’s second longest home winning streak into the 2013 season.
The Mountain Hawks will be challenged in their final tune-up before Patriot League play begins, as Hofstra visits Kaufman Field for a doubleheader on March 27. The Pride reached the NCAA Super Regionals last season and a narrowly missed a berth in the Women’s College World Series.
Lehigh’s quest for a third-straight Patriot League championship begins in earnest when the Mountain Hawks open league play with four games at Bucknell March 30-31.
After a midweek home doubleheader against Rider (April 3), Lehigh will kick off a string of three straight Patriot League weekends at home when the Mountain Hawks face rival Lafayette April 6-7. The Mountain Hawks have won 12 straight games over their arch rivals.
Lehigh will follow the Lafayette series with league series at Kaufman Field against Army (April 13-14) and Holy Cross (April 20-21). Those league series will be preceded by midweek, non-league road doubleheaders at Fordham (April 10) and at Princeton (April 17). Former Lehigh standout Lisa Sweeney
’09 is in her first season as the head coach at Princeton.
A midweek home doubleheader against Columbia (April 23) closes out the home schedule, while the Mountain Hawks will wrap-up the regular season with four games at Colgate April 27-28.
The Patriot League tournament will once again be played at the home field of the highest seed May 9-11.
“The fact of the matter is that having an opportunity to play teams like Hofstra and Fordham and having them in such close geographic proximity is really a bonus for us,” Troyan said. “We play in league that is getting better every year. It’s a very competitive schedule but we feel like it’s the type of schedule that will help us prepare for the Patriot League season and if we’re lucky enough to advance out of the Patriot League tournament, it will help us prepare for the NCAA tournament.”
The Mountain Hawks will open the 2013 season on Friday, February 22 when they meet Liberty at the Pirate Invitational in Greenville, N.C. First pitch for Lehigh’s season-opening tilt is set for 10 a.m.