The Lehigh softball team began its quest to defend its Patriot League title this weekend when the Mountain Hawks opened up conference play with a three-game series against Colgate University at home Sunday and Monday.
The Mountain Hawks began Patriot League play by splitting Sunday’s doubleheader against the Raiders with a 9-1 victory in the first game and an 8-1 loss in the second. The team had a 5-16 overall record and a 1-1 league record after the set of contests against Colgate to close out the weekend.
Lehigh started out last year similarly, with an 8-14 non-conference record. The team finished its 2017 season, however, with a 16-2 league record to dominate the conference.
Senior outfielder Nicole Yozzo said the team has been improving its game play and strategies since the start of the season and looks to carry those improvements into league play.
“It’s been nice to see that from the start to where we are now we’ve gotten better in every game,” Yozzo said. “We’ve been doing the little things better, which is nice heading into league play.”
Patriot League Preseason Pitcher of the Year junior Emily Sorem said Coach Fran Troyan has made it a habit to emphasize the smaller things.
“We’ve been playing really tight games where it’s just the little things that matter, when it comes down to it,” Sorem said.
The Mountain Hawks were tabbed first in the Patriot League preseason poll for the fourth time in four years. Boston University followed and enters league play with a 14-14 overall record.
The Terriers may be the toughest competition for the Mountain Hawks, who beat Boston last year for their 14th league title.
“(Boston) is actually our biggest competition in league right now,” Sorem said. “Army is always really good, and Colgate actually run-ruled us last time we met them, and a lot of the teams in the Patriot League are pretty good, so we look forward to playing all of them.”
Lehigh will play Boston on April 7 and 8.
With last year’s championship win under the Mountain Hawks’ belts, Sorem said there is pressure for the team to perform at the same high level that earned it the title.
“I think that there is definitely pressure just because we won last year, but hopefully we’re going at it with a different approach,” Sorem said. “This is a totally new team. I think we need to take it one game at a time and hopefully do as well as we did last year.”
Junior infielder and catcher Brianna Gerhardt said the Mountain Hawks are in an underdog position this year, as the spotlight is on other teams that are performing better than them at the moment.
“I think right now we’re actually the underdogs,” Gerhardt said. “There are a couple of other teams that have beaten some bigger opponents, and I think the spotlight is more on them right now. We’re trying to come from an underdog perspective, and we’re just going to fight every pitch and every game to get that Patriot League Championship this year.”
The team’s drive and persistence could help the Mountain Hawks win some of the tougher games as the intensity of the season picks up. Sorem said there have been several contests in which Lehigh was trailing behind, but the team never gave up and battled through to the end.
Sorem said one of the biggest aspects the Mountain Hawks need to improve on is winning the close games that they’ve been dropping in extra innings.
The team’s main focus moving forward is on winning the Patriot League Championship game for the second year in a row.
“Our goal every year is always to win the Patriot League Championship and go to Regionals,” Gerhardt said. “We’ve had a little bit of a rough start for preseason, so our goal for right now is to focus on every pitch. That will help us win these games.”
Lehigh is set to play at the University of Pennsylvania Tuesday afternoon before Patriot League play resumes against rival Lafayette College at home Saturday.