Clouds filled the sky over Leadership Park on the day of Lehigh softball’s home opener.
Just days after returning from a tournament in sunny Tampa, Florida, the Mountain Hawks made their home debut on March 22 under the overcast shadows on a field that was 20 degrees colder than the one they had seen the week before.
Lehigh hosted Monmouth University, a team that has not beaten Lehigh since 2010. When playing at home in Bethlehem, Lehigh has beaten Monmouth in every home game since March 15, 2000.
Parents and students settled into their seats as the starting lineups for each team were named over the public address system. The players formed a tunnel, each one running out of the dugout and under the formation of clasped hands onto the field when their name was called.
Beside the tunnel of Lehigh softball players, a Lehigh Athletics staff member recorded clips of each of the athletes. Unbothered by the cold weather and clouds, fifth-year infielder Carley Barjaktarovich and sophomore infielder Rory Dudley waved cheerfully at the camera.
The last player whose name was announced was Lehigh’s starting pitcher, junior Katelyn Young.
At the end of the handshake line Dudley mimed a crown atop Young’s head.
Katelyn Young spent most of last season as the team’s number two pitcher, behind Gabriella Nori, ‘22, who transferred to South Florida during the offseason. Young, in her first season as Lehigh’s starting pitcher, began the season by winning each of her first nine games.
In those nine wins, she was nearly unstoppable. The only team that scored more than two runs against her was Alabama, which was ranked in the top 10 teams in the country when Lehigh beat them on Feb. 10.
The starters stood beside members of a local youth softball team on the first base line for the national anthem. Young had done something similar when she played on her youth travel team. She remembers being 10 years old and standing alongside Cat Osterman, a pitcher who won a silver medal with Team USA at the 2008 Olympics.
It was a Wednesday game, and every pitcher was expected to pitch at least one inning to get them used to pitching at home. The game-plan for Young today was simple: work on your changeup and keep the hitters off balance.
But the stars aligned among the clouds, and Young and her teammates collaborated to make their opening day not just great, but historic.
Young recorded her first out on her first pitch, forcing a Monmouth hitter to pop the ball up in the air to center fielder Brooke Cannon.
Young finished the first inning by getting all three batters out on just six pitches.
After Lehigh got three hits but did not score in the bottom of the first, Young recorded her second strikeout on a swinging strike for the second out of the second inning.
Junior catcher Amanda Greaney caught the ball behind the plate and tossed it to Dudley at first base to send the ball around the infield. The ball reached the glove of sophomore third baseman Maddy Schmeiser, who handed the ball to Young with a smile.
Schmeiser usually visits the mound after every out and gives her pitcher a laugh or words of encouragement.
“It’s really nice to have someone who can make you smile all game,” Young said.
Young had plenty to smile about, finishing off the second inning with her third strikeout of the game.
The game was still scoreless going into the third inning. Young’s first pitch of the third hit a Monmouth batter in the helmet. In the nearly 1,000 pitches Young has thrown in 2023 up to that point, it was only the third that hit a batter.
Young said if this were her freshman year, the hit by pitch would have sent her into a panic, but after three years of pitching at Lehigh she said she knew she could trust herself.
“I’ve learned to shake stuff like that off,” Young said. “So what if there’s a runner on base? I just have to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Five pitches later the crowd went quiet as Young delivered a riseball in a 1-2 count. As the ball whizzed by the opposing player’s bat and smacked into the catcher’s glove, the silence of the strikeout broke by cheering from Lehigh players and spectators, who shouted “Good pitch Sticks!” and “Let’s go Ones!”
Young, who wears the number 11, said she has a lot of nicknames on the field, but her favorite is “ones.”
“My dad and travel coach always used to say ‘Spin it Ones,’ and I’ve just grown to like it,” Young said.
Despite the runner advancing to second base on a bunt, Young got out of the third inning without allowing any hits or runs.
A close call on a play at first base in the bottom of the third inning got Barjaktarovich out and prevented Lehigh from scoring.
This was not the first time Lehigh softball faced adversity. Their first game of the 2023 season was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, against the no. seven team in the country in Alabama’s Crimson Tide.
During this game, Young started as pitcher and let up two runs off two pitches to start the game. About 1,000 miles away from home and down two runs to one of the top teams in the nation, Young and her teammates buckled down and bounced back to the tune of seven runs of their own.
Head Coach Fran Troyan said even after the two pitches he was never worried.
“These girls just have a tremendous fight in them,” Troyan said. “No matter what the score is, at any point in time, you know, they’re gonna fight.”
In the fourth inning, Young forced a fly out on the first pitch she threw. She then struck out a batter in five pitches for a quick second out. With the final out of the inning on the line, Monmouth hit a ground ball toward Barjaktarovich. Young turned to walk to the dugout before Barjaktarovich even threw the ball to first base.
Barjaktarovich toured Young on her recruitment visit, and Young has looked up to her since the very beginning of her Lehigh career.
“She’s just always been the girl you can count on,” Young said. “A lot of shortstops can’t make the plays she makes.”
Barjaktarovich has a lot of faith in Young, as well. After five seasons with the team and three Patriot League Championship tournaments, she rarely gets nervous.
“I play this game with my teammates and for my teammates,” Barjaktarovich said. “When I’m on that field I know (Young) has my back, and I have hers.”
Entering the fifth inning, Young was nine outs away from a no-hitter.
In the 45-year history of Lehigh softball, only nine pitchers have thrown a no-hitter. The last was Emily Sorem, ‘19, who allowed no hits within nine innings in a win against Holy Cross on April 27, 2019.
Young only threw 25 pitches throughout the fifth and sixth innings, where she forced four more fly outs and also got the last of her six strikeouts of the afternoon.
At the plate in the bottom of the sixth, senior outfielder Emily Cimino hit a double to center field. Dudley then hit a single to left field on the next at bat, bringing Cimino home and giving Lehigh a 2-0 lead.
The first batter of the seventh inning poked a fly ball into foul territory in right field for Cimino to grab the first out.
Two outs to go.
Young dealt her 66th pitch of the day and induced another ground ball to Barjaktarovich. All eyes were on the two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year winner as she fielded a ball and threw it to Dudley.
One out to go.
Schmeiser looked at her pitcher from third base and mouthed some words of encouragement. Young got the pitch selection from her coach, looked down to her wristband to make sure she knew what she was throwing and threw the pitch on a two-strike count.
The Monmouth batter put the ball in play.
Barjaktarovich fielded the ground ball. She scooped it up and threw the ball to Dudley at first. Dudley reached out and stretched for the ball, nearly taking her foot off the bag and ending the no hitter at the very last out. By a matter of inches, the runner was called out.
The whole team met Young at the center of the field and celebrated. For the first time in four years, a Lehigh pitcher allowed no hits over the course of an entire game.
Lehigh went on to win each of the next eight games after defeating Monmouth. Two days after the Monmouth game, Young pitched again in another 2-0 win. This time, she allowed four hits in an away game against Lafayette.
Lehigh softball will play their next game on April 26.