Senior shortstop John Elson runs home during Lehigh's doubleheader against Army at Depew Field in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania on Sunday, March 29,2015. Elson scored three runs and drove in five more in the doubleheader. (Courtesy of Lehigh Sports)

Hawks baseball faces challenge from defending champions


Despite its difficulties this season, the Lehigh baseball team will continue to put forth its best effort against a Bucknell University team that won the Patriot League last year and made the 2014 baseball NCAA Tournament when they competed on national television on the University of Virginia campus.

After losing three of four games to Army on March 29, the Lehigh men’s baseball team hopes to bounce back as it hosts the Bison in a four-game Patriot League series this weekend. Revenge will be a factor because Bucknell ended the team’s season last year.

The Mountain Hawks’ season did not start as planned, as they have an overall record of 5-16 so far. The team had played a lot of solid competition in Florida, but could not fully find its rhythm. However, the team has picked up its intensity and has continuously played much better.

“We are able to learn a lot and are a better team because of it,” senior first baseman Connor Faust said. “Being able to make adjustments early in the season is definitely better than having to make them later on. We’re a better team right now because of that.”

The Mountain Hawks’ offense is fueled by two local stars, senior outfielder Justin Pacchioli and junior second baseman Mike Garzillo. They both attended Nazareth High School, which is just under 15 miles from Lehigh. So far this season, Pacchioli is hitting .392, slugging .608, has 16 stolen bases and has scored 24 runs. Garzillo is also batting .393, while leading the team with 33 hits and three home runs. Major league scouts are currently looking at both student athletes.

The Mountain Hawks’ pitching is led by seniors J.R. Edwards and Nick Macaione, who have a 2.14 and 2.83 ERA respectively. Sophomore David Young leads the team in wins with two and freshman Peter Moore leads in strikeouts with 22.

Another strong pitcher on the staff is right-hander Kevin Long, who had a good performance against Saint Joseph’s University in early March. Long said he knows the importance of the upcoming match-up against Bucknell and clearly remembers last year’s match-up with the Bison in the Patriot League Championship.

“Not only do we need these wins to improve our record, but we have a chance to put the reigning champion in a huge hole after they got swept by Navy last weekend,” Long said.

This is a big weekend for both teams as they are chasing Navy and College of the Holy Cross, who are each tied for first with 4-0 conference records.

With a big series approaching, the upperclassmen are mentoring the underclassmen on the importance of this match-up. Junior starting outfielder Anthony Rinaldi said the gap between top teams and other teams is not too big.

“Every team is solid, and the difference between the winning squad is who competes on that given day,” Rinaldi said. “As upperclassmen, it’s important to keep the underclassmen’s heads in the game and make sure they are prepared to compete when their number is called.”

Last year, Rinaldi suffered a season-ending injury. However, he is looking to bounce back in full force. This season, Rinaldi has started 16 games and recorded 13 hits, 11 runs batted in and had one home run against St. Joseph’s University.

Bucknell is coming into the series with an overall record of 14-11 and a 0-4 Patriot League record. The Bison recently dropped a four-game series to Navy on March 28 and 29.

The Bison’s offense is lead by Joe Ogren, who has a .372 batting average, while tallying 35 hits and four home runs. Brett Smith leads the team with 23 runs.

Bucknell’s pitching is strung together with strong performances by Mike Castellani, Bryson Hough and Xavier Hammond. The three all have three wins as starting pitchers.

The overall goal for the Mountain Hawks has always been to win a Patriot League Tournament and advance to a regional, but the team realizes it’s impossible to win a championship in the regular season, so it is focusing on taking it one game at a time.

“If we do the little things right, we’ll have success,” Faust said. “We’re excited for this weekend and can’t wait to get after it.”

The series is scheduled to begin April 4 at noon. The next game will take place immediately after at 2:30 p.m. The teams will play again Sunday at the same times at Goodman Campus.

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