Lehigh played its first season of baseball in 1885. Despite its long-standing history, the Mountain Hawks will etch their names in the school’s books this Saturday.
The baseball team from the Patriot League will set foot on California soil for the first time in program history. The Mountain Hawks begin an eight-game Bay Area swing with a 2 p.m. tilt against the Cal baseball team at Evans Diamond.
The clubs will clash twice in Sunday’s doubleheader before Lehigh (2-2) ventures to San Jose State and Santa Clara to round out its grand adventure, hyped as the highlight of the Mountain Hawks’ season.
The squad from the small Bethlehem, Penn., school has not faced a top-25 team since the 2008 campaign when it was blown out by then-No. 6 Miami. Currently, the NCAA has the Bears (5-2) holding the No. 25 slot.
“This is the World Series for them,” said Cal coach David Esquer. “It’s baseball, so there are no guarantees. We don’t get any extra runs for being a Pac-12 team or being ranked. We gotta play well.”
Scoring has been hard to come by for the Bears of late. After putting up 24 runs in its first three games against Pacific two weeks ago, Cal has tallied a mere 12 runs over its last four fixtures, including two unsatisfying losses.
The Bears got derailed last weekend, dropping two of three games at Long Beach State, whose stalwart pitching frustrated Cal’s bats. While the Bears claimed their midweek tilt against San Francisco, 5-3, the team managed only seven hits and struggled to put the game away.
“We’re looking for an opportunity to get a little rhythm as a team,” Esquer said. “Quite frankly, we didn’t do the things necessary to win (in Long Beach). Those are the things we gotta fall back on — pitching and defense and taking care of opportunities where we’ve just gotta execute offensively.”
The Mountain Hawks too are looking to get back on track. Lehigh, projected to finish sixth in its conference, won its opening two games of the season only to drop the next two. Its first loss was a thorough 9-1 drubbing by Davidson, followed by a 6-3 loss against Fairleigh Dickinson.
The Mountain Hawks will look to right their ship against preseason All-American Justin Jones on Saturday. Cal’s left-handed ace is coming off an uncharacteristically rough start last week that lasted only three innings and evened his record at 1-1.
The pitching has largely been a bright spot for the Bears, keeping them in games while the offense sputtered. Catcher Chadd Krist will again look to guide his staff through the weekend, including Jones and Sunday starters, Matt Flemer and Michael Theofanopoulos.
While Cal’s play has hardly been pretty, Krist is more concerned about the ends than the means this weekend.
“I don’t care how we do it, as long as we win,” Krist said.