Lehigh junior starter Najir Glenn pitches during a game against Bucknell on Sunday, April 7, 2024, at Legacy Park. Glenn was on the mound in place of injured junior starter Alex Bouchard. (Amanda Rowan/B&W staff)

Lehigh baseball masters the art of the opener


A flurry of white jerseys took the bump in the Lehigh baseball team’s 6-5 victory against Bucknell in the back end of a doubleheader on Sunday.

Junior Najir Glenn opened with two innings of work, sophomore Brandon Coughlin contributed four innings and sophomore David Andolina closed out the game.

The different pitching styles and mixes stymied Bucknell’s hitters, who only mustered a single run following their four-run second inning.

For many teams, using only relievers in a single game is uncommon. But for the injury-riddled Mountain Hawks, pitching depth and versatility has been essential.

“I like the mindset of having four guys ready for a game,” Lehigh coach Sean Leary said. “There’s quite a few guys with one save. We don’t really have specific roles.”

Lehigh pitcher Najir Glenn throws off the mound during a game against Bucknell on Sunday, April 7, 2024, at J. David Walker Field. Lehigh swept the doubleheader. (Alec Eskin/B&W Staff)

Following the departure of fifth-year ace Luke Rettig, the Hawks entered the 2024 season with a projected rotation of three starters. 

Junior Alex Bouchard headlined the rotation after coming off a strong 2023 campaign with 12 starts, 49.1 innings of work and 37 strikeouts.

Sophomore Cole Leaman catapulted into the starting rotation following a rookie campaign that saw limited action from the bullpen. He’s recorded seven starts on the year.

And senior Teddy Tolliver has been the workhorse of the rotation, throwing a team-high 38 innings and recording eight starts on the year. 

The need to adapt came early in the year.

Bouchard, whose injury required Tommy John surgery, hasn’t pitched since his Feb. 23 outing against Charleston Southern.

According to the MLB, the recovery timetable for Tommy John surgery spans from 12-to-18 months, likely sidelining the ace well into the 2025 season.

With Bouchard out, the Mountain Hawks have since mastered the art of the opener, relying on their relievers to start most games since his injury.

In Leary’s new system, relievers can take on the role of a starter, a middle reliever or a closer. With the roles switching every week, he explained that a pitcher who opened one game could end up closing another later in the week.

Relievers Jack Hamilton, Glenn, Grady Golier and Marcus Danchision have stepped up and opened games in place of Bouchard, normally lasting a few innings before going to the bullpen.

Lehigh sophomore reliever Brandon Coughlin pitches in top of the third inning of a game against Bucknell on Sunday, April 7, 2024, at Legacy Park. Lehigh swept the doubleheader. (Amanda Rowan/B&W Staff)

Despite the difference in scheduling, the openers have adapted well to their new role within the staff.

“There hasn’t been much of a change,” Danchision said. “I was having success out of the (bullpen), and whatever role they put me in, I just try to keep my process the same.”

The strategy has worked.

Last season, Lehigh posted a 5.11 team ERA for the 2023 season and has bettered that mark to 4.39 for 2024.

In their appearances, the four primary openers have each posted an ERA below 3.00 for the season and have posted a 8-4-1 record on the year, keeping the Mountain Hawks alive for a playoff push.

“It definitely helps with all those guys stepping up,” Tolliver said. “All of our guys are shoving, so it keeps the team confident.”

While the team’s pitching has steadily improved, the offensive production continues to lag behind the team’s conference worst team batting average (.218).

After sweeping its doubleheader against Bucknell, the team sits in the middle of the conference standings, still within reach of earning home-field advantage for the upcoming Patriot League Championship. 

The path to earning the top seeds remains difficult. 

Following another matchup against Bucknell, the Mountain Hawks play Army, Navy and Holy Cross, currently the top three teams in the Patriot League.

Leary said he remains confident in his pitching staff as the season progresses.

“The most important thing is that (the pitchers) are willing to accept whatever role,” Leary said.


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