Lehigh baseball begins its season with a two-game series Friday and Saturday against Butler University in Wilmington, North Carolina.
After losing two close games to Patriot League rival Army and missing out on their chance at the postseason, the Mountain Hawks closed out their 2017 season with three losses at Longwood University.
Lehigh posted a 21-29 losing record, including an 8-12 league record.
The team, led by coach Sean Leary, is looking to redeem itself.
“From the moment that last game at Army ended, the motivation was becoming more focused and more determined to get back to the (Patriot League) Championships,” Leary said. “The kids in the program had that feeling of, ‘We’re not going to leave here without a chance to go back and win.'”
Senior captain and outfielder Chris Kersey agreed the team’s main goal is a Patriot League Championship title, which would be the second for the senior class.
No Patriot League baseball player has ever won two conference championships, so Lehigh’s seniors are looking to have a record-setting season this year.
However, Kersey said the team will face challenges after graduating seven starters from last season’s roster.
“We lost seven seniors last year who had huge offensive impacts,” Kersey said, “so we have big shoes to fill, as many of them were multi-year starters as well.”
This season, many of the team’s top players are underclassmen, including a freshmen class of 10. The Mountain Hawks are led by sophomore pitchers Jason Reynolds and Levi Stoudt.
This will be the first season of play for Duke University transfer junior pitcher Luke Glavin, who was not able to play in any games last season because of NCAA rules.
Senior pitcher Matt Ratner praised the ability and depth of Lehigh’s pitchers, from the starters to the relievers like senior captain Buck Schwab.
“(Lehigh’s pitchers) are bulldogs, and we have experience down the lineup,” Ratner said. “We have not only upperclassmen, but also a few freshmen as well who are ready to contribute.”
The Mountain Hawks are particularly focused on winning the 25 Patriot League games they have scheduled this year and beating the teams they fell to in the 2017 season. Lehigh’s two toughest opponents will be last season’s league leaders Navy and Holy Cross.
Senior pitcher Peter Moore has high expectations for Lehigh’s performance against target teams but stressed the importance of every in-conference game this season.
“With 25 Patriot League games scheduled this season instead of 20, every conference game matters that much more,” Moore said. “(The Patriot League) is so close in skill this season, so we really have to go into every game with the same ideology about what we have to do about the little things that will help us pull off wins.”
Patriot League play starts March 24-25 with a four-game series at Lafayette College. Leary said the games against Lafayette will be an opportunity for the Mountain Hawks to set the tone for the season.
“We open with the team that really gets you focused right away, and right off the bat we travel there, so our focus is really getting off on the right foot,” Leary said. “Naturally, the fact that (Lafayette) is our rival is going to go hand-in-hand with starting strong, whereas, traveling somewhere else for the first (Patriot League) game would be a little different of a mindset.”
Prior to Lafayette, Lehigh will showcase its preseason training in non-conference games, starting with away games against Butler, Eastern Kentucky University and the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.