Freshman infielder Mary-Hannah Smith steps up to bat against Bucknell in their game on Sunday, April 9, 2017, at Leadership Park. The Mountain Hawks took home all three wins against the Bison this weekend beating them 3-2, 5-0 and 1-0. (Gracie Chavers/B&W Staff)

Lehigh softball dominating Patriot League competition after preseason struggles

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When the Lehigh softball team returned from its spring break trip to California a few weeks ago, its record was 8-14.

The team had won only four out of the 12 games played on the trip, compared to winning eight of the 11 games on the team’s spring break trip to Florida last year.

The team did not get discouraged, however, and has gone 11-2 since its return. That run includes a 8-1 record against Patriot League opponents, including series sweeps of Boston University and Bucknell University, placing Lehigh atop the Patriot League standings.

Team members and coach Fran Troyan said much of the team’s somewhat rocky start can be attributed to the team playing a difficult schedule against high-level opponents in the preseason — games played prior to the start of Patriot League play.

Some of the teams who dealt Lehigh losses in its preseason include nationally-ranked University of Florida and University of California, as well as other quality Division I teams such as Stanford University and Syracuse University.

“We intentionally scheduled very, very difficult teams,” Troyan said. “What happens when you schedule talented teams that are pretty seasoned is that it exposes everything that you really need to work on. I always say that surprises are good on your birthday and your anniversary. Getting surprised that you’re not good at something late in the season because you haven’t been exposed to something is a bad thing.”

Senior pitcher Christine Campbell has been a key player for the team throughout the entire season — she owns ab 11-4 record and the pitching staff’s lowest ERA at 1.92. Campbell credits the difficult preseason schedule with preparing the team for the success it’s enjoyed so far in the Patriot League. In addition to sweeping Bucknell and BU, the defending Patriot League champions, Lehigh also took two out of three games in its series against Lafayette.

“We played a lot of really talented teams over spring break, some of the best in the nation, so going into league play we knew we were well-prepared,” Campbell said. “Yes, we didn’t have the best record, but our losses were good losses. We learned a lot.”

The softball team has also seen a lot of new faces in starting roles this season. Getting its younger players and new starters more experience has been another component to the team’s turnaround in Patriot League play.

Troyan said the team is striving for experience, which breeds consistency.

One new starter who has stood out is freshman Mary-Hannah Smith, who has been a key contributor both offensively and defensively this season. Smith has been the starting second baseman in most of Lehigh’s games and has a fielding percentage of .991 with just one error. She is also one of the team’s top offensive players with a .330 batting average, .385 on-base percentage and .457 slugging percentage.

“I try to not think too much when I’m in the batter’s box,” Smith said. “See ball, hit ball. I think it’s important to keep it simple and not overthink, no matter what the situation.”

The softball team as a whole has been focusing on keeping it simple. While the ultimate goal is to win a Patriot League Championship, senior first baseman Vicky Lattanzio said the team has been trying to take every inning and every game as they come since returning from the spring break trip.

“We did get off to a rocky start, but I definitely think it was well worth playing the difficult teams,” Lattanzio said. “We always said while going through that rough patch that we were going to peak at the right time, and now we’re getting off to a strong start in Patriot League play when it really matters. It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”

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