Junior outfielder Jacen Nalesnik runs toward home plate after homering in the first inning in a game against NYIT on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at Legacy Park. Lehigh won the game 10-5. (Austin Vitelli/B&W Staff)

Lehigh baseball tops NYIT 10-5 in home opener


Lehigh junior outfielder Jacen Nalesnik is one of the hottest hitters in the Patriot League as the leadoff hitter for the Mountain Hawks.

If you told him this three weeks ago, he may not believe you.

“I never led off before this season, so it’s a little new to me,” Nalesnik said. “(As a leadoff hitter) I just look for a good pitch to hit, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get some good pitches to hit these past few games.”

Nalesnik certainly got a good pitch to hit in his first at-bat against New York Institute of Technology on Tuesday afternoon. He effortlessly drove a pitch to the opposite field, way beyond the “375 feet” sign in right-center field to give Lehigh a 1-0 lead. It marked the third straight game that Nalesnik led off the game with a round tripper.

“I haven’t seen that before and not sure if I will again,” coach Sean Leary said. “You can be a very good player and not that in a string of three games.”

Nalesnik anchored Lehigh’s (6-11) offense to a 10-5 victory over NYIT at Legacy Park. The reigning Patriot League Player of the Week went 2 for 4 with three runs batted in and two runs scored in the victory.

“He’s having a fabulous season,” Leary said. “He’s having that breakout year we expected because he’s a pretty talented kid, and now he’s putting up the numbers we know he can put up.”

Lehigh extended its lead to 2-0 in the fourth inning when Nalesnik was walked with the bases loaded. Going into the sixth inning, the game had the feel of a pitcher’s duel with sophomore Sam Ashey on the mound for Lehigh. After allowing the first two batters of the game to reach base on sharply hit singles, Ashey settled down and went on to have a stretch where he retired 10 straight batters.

NYIT broke through in the sixth inning with an RBI double to the right-center field gap followed by an RBI single to knot the game at two. Ashey escaped the jam and would finish the game with six strikeouts in six innings while only allowing two earned runs.

“I thought he was outstanding,” Leary said. “We want guys to pound the zone and he set the tone with his performance.”

The Hawks would respond in the bottom half of the sixth inning. Senior shortstop Mackey Price and sophomore catcher Ryan Bonshak were hit by pitches to start the inning and advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. A squeeze bunt by junior outfielder Stephen Fitzgerald served as the turning point as it put Lehigh back on top for good at 3-2.

Nalesnik continued his strong afternoon with an RBI single, and the Hawks would tack two more runs before NYIT could get out of trouble. The Lehigh offense would add four more runs in the eighth inning to seal the victory.

Final Baseball vs NYIT Infographic

The Lehigh offense scored in a plethora of ways. Nine different Lehigh players finished the game with a hit.

“I think that’s something we’ve seen in the last few games, we could go nine deep,” Leary said. “I think today we did a good job of working the count and finding our ways on base. I enjoy those innings where we have a hit by a pitch, a safety squeeze, or stolen base because that’s how we’ll beat a Navy or Bucknell.”

The Hawks will look to continue their balance of hitting and pitching when they return to action tomorrow against the University of Pennsylvania.

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Junior outfielder Jacen Nalesnik grabs a batting glove in preparation for an at-bat in a game against NYIT on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, at Legacy Park. Nalesnik hit a home run in the first inning for Lehigh's first run of the game. (Austin Vitelli/B&W Staff)

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