Lehigh baseball junior pitcher Marcus Danchision on the mound during the game against Saint Joseph's on March 12, 2024, at Legacy Park. The Lehigh baseball team will host Delaware State University at home on March 20. (Holly Fasching / B&W Staff)

Lehigh baseball hopes for ‘special season’


Despite recent injuries, the Lehigh baseball team is off to their hottest non-conference start in decades. 

The Mountain Hawks won 12 of their first 18 games, a mark they haven’t reached since 1989. This includes both 2006 and 2015, two years where the team won the Patriot League title.

Coach Sean Leary said the team has the potential to make this spring a “special season” because of the improvements they have made at the plate.

“Our offense is starting to pick up a little bit,” Leary said. “That’s been our one piece that hasn’t been as consistent.”

In the team’s four-game series against Saint Peter’s University last weekend, that offense produced eight runs across the first two games, resulting in a win and a loss. 

The Peacocks worked through three of their four best pitchers by ERA (earned run average) in the first two games. Through Lehigh’s strong plate discipline, the Mountain Hawks were able to ensure the pitchers in both games threw around 20 pitches per inning, leaving some of their opponents’ less experienced pitchers for the final two games. 

In the last two games of the series, the Mountain Hawks punished their tired arms as they scored 37 combined runs and defeated Saint Peter’s by mercy rule 18-8 and 19-8 to close the series.

This series also showcased Lehigh’s two top hitters, junior infielders Justin Butler and Rafe Perich. Both had six hits in the final two games, batting third and fourth in the lineup.

Despite missing most of last season with an injury, Butler was one of the team’s most prominent power hitters with seven home runs in only 23 games. 

This season, a healthy Butler has already surpassed his previous totals in both home runs and RBIs with nine and 35, two totals that lead the Patriot League. He has also now become more reliable at the plate with his on-base percentage rising to .427.

Perich is second to Butler in RBIs and boasts a .397 batting average, which ranks him second in the Patriot League. 

The two have driven in a combined 60 runs, batting behind lead-off hitter and junior outfielder Jake Whitlinger and sophomore infielder Ryan Cochran, who are both top-15 in the league in on-base percentage.

“The first two guys get on for us and it’s our job to hit them in,” Perich said. “We’re used to it at this point.”

The Mountain Hawks offense, which leads the league in hits and runs per game, has been just one part of their hot start. The team’s pitching has also shined through. Lehigh has the lowest team ERA in the league and has thrown the most strikeouts.

The pitching staff has faced numerous challenges so far during the season, like injuries sidelining two of their three opening weekend starters, junior Alex Bouchard and sophomore Cole Leaman. Senior Teddy Tolliver, who has remained healthy, picked up his second win of the season in the final game of the series against Saint Peter’s.

Even in the face of injuries, Tolliver praised what the pitching staff has been able to accomplish.

“Everybody’s just stepping up and doing their part,” Tolliver said. “All of the pitchers on the staff look really good.”

These injuries have forced pitchers such as junior Marcus Danchision and first-year Julio Ermigiotti to move from bullpen roles to getting their first career starts.

Leary said he was impressed with how those pitchers were able to rise to the occasion.

“The pitchers always say we got you and the next guy has you,” Leary said. “This weekend, we were able to win three games with some guys stepping into new roles.”

Winning games is something Lehigh was able to do in non-conference play last season, as they started that year 11-10. However, the start of their Patriot League play was much less successful. They lost each of their first six games before missing the conference tournament at a 10-15 Patriot League record. 

Leary said the team is playing better in the last nine outs of games compared to where they were at the start of conference play last season.

During the last game of the Saint Peter’s series, Lehigh gave up six runs in the fifth and sixth innings but was able to refocus and limit the Peacocks’ production the rest of the way to secure the win.

“I really was impressed that when a rally was starting to see that we seemed to find a way to make it through that inning and still pull out a victory,” Leary said.

The Lehigh baseball team opens Patriot League play against Lafayette College on March 22 in Easton.

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