Last season, Lehigh baseball eliminated Army from championship contention in the Patriot League Tournament semifinals after splitting four games with them in the regular season.
The Hawks will once again face the familiar rival when it opens Patriot League play with a four-game series against the Black Knights this weekend.
“We know that they are out for revenge,” senior co-captain and pitcher Nick Stephens said. “As much as Lafayette is our school’s rival, Army is a team we always know will be close, and we’ll be fired up for this series.”
The team has a current record of 3-12, but has been able to take many positives away from their out-of-conference schedule as it prepares for Patriot League play. Last season, Lehigh’s success in conference games led the team to the Patriot League Championship series before falling to Bucknell University.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games thus far, and I think we need to keep plugging away and everything will fall into place,” senior pitcher J.R. Edwards said. “There is always a different atmosphere in league play, and we’re all excited to get back at it, especially after coming so close to winning the Patriot League last year.”
Edwards currently leads Lehigh’s pitching staff with a 2.08 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 17.1 innings pitched. Not far behind is fellow senior Nick Macaione, who has compiled a 2.66 ERA and 14 strikeouts in four starts and 23.2 innings pitched.
One of the greatest highlights for Lehigh this season was Macaione’s impressive outing against Iona College on Feb. 28. Macaione threw the first nine innings of Lehigh’s 2-0, no-hitter victory. He was named the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week and the Patriot League Co-Pitcher of the Week for the strong performance and is now one of two Patriot League pitchers to throw nine no-hit innings this century.
Lehigh has also seen some tremendous offensive performances in the first half of the season. Junior co-captain and second baseman Mike Garzillo, who made first team All-Patriot League last season and was named to this year’s preseason All-Patriot League team, leads the team offensively with a .441 batting average, 26 hits, 18 RBIs and three home runs.
Following a first team All-Patriot League selection last season, senior outfielder Justin Pacchioli was named the Patriot League’s Preseason Player of the Year in the conference’s preseason poll. Pacchioli has been among the top performers on the team so far, posting a .353 batting average this season to date. He also leads the team in runs scored and on-base percentage.
The baseball team has also shown very reliable defensive play in the field. Fourteen players have a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage this season.
Lehigh will look to translate these strong pitching, offensive and fielding performances into more victories during the Patriot League season, as the team came up just short in many of its out-of-conference games. Five of Lehigh’s losses so far this season have been one-run losses. The team is very focused on putting the out-of-conference schedule behind them, however, and concentrating on the upcoming Patriot League matchups.
“No matter what has happened up to this point, it is important to hit the reset button and remember that the Patriot League games are the most important games throughout the season,” Garzillo said. “We understand that the next five weeks are going to play the most crucial role in determining our road to the ring and a Patriot League Championship.”
The series against Army was supposed to mark Lehigh’s first time playing at home this season, as well as the team’s first time ever playing on the newly improved Goodman Campus baseball field, which has been undergoing renovations since last summer. The field is not yet ready for play, however, and the teams are currently looking for a neutral site to play this weekend’s games.
“We’re all extremely excited to play on our new field, but we can’t control when that will be,” Edwards said. “So until that happens, our focus is on winning games on whichever field we play on in the interim.”
As of now, the timing of the four-game series remains the same and will consist of doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday with the first pitches set for 12 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on both days.