LEWISBURG, Pa. – The Bucknell baseball team followed up its Patriot League regular-season title with a Patriot League Tournament Championship and will be heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010. The top-seeded Bison swept the first two games of the best-of-three Patriot League Championship Series Friday at Depew Field and became the second team this year to earn an automatic berth into the NCAA field.
Bucknell (29-17-1) extended its winning streak to five games as it defeated the Mountain Hawks 5-4 and 7-2 on a cloudy Friday that began with morning downpours that subsided in time for the doubleheader to begin on time at noon.
Six days after sweeping a Patriot League Semifinal Series from fourth-seeded Navy, Bucknell’s starting pitchers set the tone. Game one starter Bryson Hough pitched into the ninth inning and allowed just five hits, only two of which came after the first inning, and two earned runs as he retired 20 in a row at one point. Game two starter Dan Weigel followed with his seventh consecutive win as he pitched into the eighth inning and was touched for just six hits and two runs while striking out four. Hough (8-3) now ranks second on the program’s single-season wins list, while Weigel (7-4) stands sixth on the same ledger.
“Bryson did a great job today, bouncing back after a tough first inning and was really strong down the stretch,” mentioned second-year head coach Scott Heather. “Dan has been awesome. 7-0 in the Patriot League this year. He has been great. He pitched down in the zone and kept them off balance.”
Bucknell continued its hot hitting from the Navy series as it totaled 20 hits in Friday’s two contests. Danny Rafferty (4-for-7), Justin Meier (3-for-4), Joe Ogren (3-for-7) and Brett Smith (3-for-9) each posted at least three hits on the day. Ogren was named Patriot League Tournament MVP, while Meier, Hough and Xavier Hammond were also honored with spots on the All-Tournament Team. Hammond appeared in all four postseason games and did now allow a run in 5.1 innings of relief.
“I am proud of the guys,” said Heather, the Patriot League Coach of the Year. “A lot of guys sacrificed for the team and we came out on top today.”
Game one Friday was a close one as three of third-seeded Lehigh’s (25-24) first five batters in the top of the first recorded hits against Hough, staking the Mountain Hawks to an early 2-0 lead. Hough got the final two hitters in the frame to begin his streak of 20 in a row retired. He did not allow another hit until the leadoff hitter in the eighth (Patrick Donnelly) singled through the right side.
Bucknell answered back in the bottom of the second against Lehigh starter Colin Gotzon, who appeared to have trouble loosening up his back. Sam Clark and Meier had back-to-back singles to lead off the frame and Rafferty followed with a double to left, tying the score. Rafferty moved to third on a ground out, forcing the Mountain Hawks to bring the infield in for Smith. The Patriot League Rookie of the Year hit a hard shot, but it was right to the second baseman, who tossed the ball to first and kept the score at 2-2.
Gotzon exited after walking the first two hitters in the third inning and gave way to Kevin Long. Long was strong as he struck out the final two hitters in the inning and benefitted from a pickoff at first base by catcher Tim McKay. Long ended up with nine strikeouts in 6.0 innings of work.
While Long was effective in relief, Bucknell had plenty of runners on base as it left 11 men on base in the game, including two in the first, three in the fourth, two in the sixth. Lehigh left just two runners on base all game.
The score was 2-2 entering the bottom of the eighth when the Bison bats got hot. Meier led off the frame with a double and Rafferty followed with a walk. Greg Wasikowski bunted them into scoring position for Smith, who gave Bucknell a 4-2 lead with an RBI single up the middle. Two batters later a ground out by Ogren plated an insurance run that proved to be pivotal.
After Hough retired the first Lehigh hitter in the ninth, Joe Abeln reached on an error. A Tyler Brong double drove him home. A ground out followed by a passed ball allowed Brong to scamper home from third and cut the Bucknell lead to 5-4. Hammond proceeded to get two fly outs to end the game and earn his third save of the year, and his second of the postseason.
The Bison had their leadoff hitter on base in four of their eight at bats in game one and in all four of those innings the second hitter up also reached base. Bucknell scored all five of its runs in innings where the leadoff guy reached.
The first three innings of game two were played quickly as just two hitters reached base and one of them was erased on a double play. The Bison changed it from a pitching duel to a 5-0 lead quickly, though, plating five runs in the top of the fourth against starter Mike Burke (3-4). Bucknell sent nine men to the plate in the frame with Smith’s leadoff triple getting things started. A walk to Anthony Gingerelli and a hit by pitch by Ogren loaded the bases.
Rob Krentzman, who along with Ogren and Alex O’Neill posted a team-high six RBIs in the Patriot League Tournament, drove home Smith with a single to center. Clark followed with a sac fly to score Gingerelli. Ogren and Krentzman then scored on a single to right by O’Neill. A single to left by Rafferty rounded out the scoring in the frame and made it 5-0 Bison.
With Weigel on the mound, that was all Bucknell would need. Lehigh scored twice in the seventh to trim a 7-0 deficit to 7-2, but never seriously rallied, and Hammond put the Mountain Hawks down 1-2-3 in the ninth to clinch the game and the series.
Bucknell became just the second team to sweep through the Patriot League Tournament since the postseason event adopted its current four-team format in 2008.
The Bison have now won six Patriot League Tournament crowns (1996, 2001, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2014) and advanced to the NCAA Tournament each time. This is Bucknell’s first Patriot League title as the No. 1 seed since 2003 after winning as the No. 4 seed in 2008 and 2010.
The Bison are now just one win shy of reaching 30 in a season for the fourth time in program history. Bucknell is a strong 15-3 at Depew Field this year and now has 13 more victories than it had in 2013.
The NCAA Tournament selection show is Monday, May 26. Bucknell will find out its regional destination and opponents then.