Season Preview: Lehigh Embraces ‘Unfinished Business’ Mentality Ahead of 2022 Season

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The Lehigh baseball program finished the 2021 season one win away from hoisting its third Patriot League title.
In 2022, the team is locked in, loaded and ready to compete again for a championship and the right to play in an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2015.
Last season’s squad was highlighted by its power pitching staff which included Patriot League Pitcher of the Year Mason Black and First Team All-Patriot League selection Matt Svanson. After those two pitchers went on to play professional baseball, this season’s squad is headlined by consistent returning bats in the lineup, a team that led the league in home runs (28) a season ago.
The way last season ended was bittersweet, but the trajectory of this program is skyrocketing and the best is still yet to come.
“We were proud of our guys, that was a great season we had last year,” said Peter E. Bennett ’63 Head Baseball Coach Sean Leary. “It was our first-ever sole Patriot League regular season title in program history and we had a tremendous amount of team and individual accolades, which you own and embrace. But what we loved the most was the emotion of the team in the summer and into the preseason has been that ‘unfinished business’ mentality.
“Teams tend to do really well when they don’t feel like they have achieved a goal and they didn’t achieve that goal last year. It’s not uncommon for a team that gets that close to respond the next year and take that next step. That’s legitimately what we’ve said every day, as hard as we worked last year and as talented as the team was, we were one game short of our goal and so our focus is to be sharper this season and a little more detail-oriented. I love our focus right now, we don’t feel like we’ve accomplished anything yet and that’s what we need from this group.”
Practice started a few weeks ago and has really taken off as the season officially gets going on Friday. The upperclassmen have come in strong and ready to finish the job from last year, while the underclassmen are getting acclimated to the Lehigh baseball culture, lifestyle and balance between baseball and academics.
“I’m really pleased with where we’re at right now,” said Leary. “First on the offensive side, associate head coach AJ Miller has got our core veteran guys that have been around for a while going just like they have been in the past. They have a chance to be a pretty special unit this year. They’re putting the time in from the winter to the preseason and have got their reps.
“I also give a ton of credit to our arms, Luke Rettig and Matt Stamford in particular. They took the lead from Mason (Black) and Matt (Svanson), not just in innings and throwing strikeouts, but literally taking the lead in mentoring every day and modeling the program. I feel really good about where that is and I think teams that are successful are generally senior-driven and they look to their best players and their leaders. Again, we’re a couple days out and I feel really good from that perspective.”
The underclassmen this season is made up of a class of 13 first years, a number that is significantly larger than the usual class of 10 we’ve seen in year’s past. All 13 look to make an immediate impact with some starting the season off in starting roles or key roles on the pitching staff.
“What I love is that our upperclassmen just want to win and so we’ll have first years contributing from day one,” Leary said. “That’s not only because we think there’s some talent in that class, but because the upperclassmen have mentored them to just know this how we do it here and if you win the job, we’ve got your back. There’s not a hierarchy to earning the job when it’s your junior year, if you can play, you can play.
“That group is pretty talented this year. We like where we are with them and while I think there’s going to be both short and long-term contributions, I echo the first sentiment. It’s not just their talent, it’s how the upperclassmen have embraced them and brought them along. I don’t know how the first day is going to be, but I can see two of our first years starting and I can see a couple key arms coming out of the bullpen, helping us on the mound even from the first weekend.”
As mentioned before, the starting rotation will look a little bit different this year following the departures of Black and Svanson. Returning is Second Team All-Patriot League selection Luke Rettig, a three-year member of the rotation, as well as left-hander Matt Stamford, who has also pitched heavily since his rookie season. Those two, along with junior right-hander Carlos Torres make up a weekend rotation that will look to continue the momentum from the end of last year.
“We have a legitimate number one starter (Rettig) that can run out and win games for us this year,” said Leary. “He had the great opportunity last year to pitch two do-or-die games for us. Luke’s been tested and is a championship-level arm. We love having him be our ace from the get-go. We also like the combination of the pitchers behind him. Carlos Torres is back to full strength this year. I think he’s going to be someone that gives us a chance every single time he’s on the mound.
“And then Matt (Stamford) gives us a chance to go left-right-left and when we get to a four-game weekend, Nick Pave, Ben Christian and a number of others are fighting for that fourth spot in the rotation. But what we think we have going in our favor this year is more pieces. We might be a little less traditional is game threes and fours than we have in the past and we might throw three or four arms at a team because we believe in them. One of the things we are trying to do this year is build from back to the forward. Whether it’s Will Grisack or Tyler Thompson or some of the other arms that are emerging like Teddy Tolliver or Val Taddei and even our two-way guys in Casey Rother and Rafe Perich, they give us a ton of options this year.”
From a relief pitching perspective, the graduation of First Team All-Patriot League selection Sam Wurth left a hole in the back-end of the bullpen for 2022, but the emergence of junior Will Grisack, as well as sophomore Tyler Thompson puts the Mountain Hawks in a really good position to tote out quality pitching in late-inning situations this year.
“Will will almost certainly be one of our key closers again this year,” Leary said. “Our team models itself on having multiple guys in that role because of the possibility of playing four games in a row. We like the fact that we have some power guys like Tyler (Thompson), who could be a really effective late-inning guy. Val (Taddei) has been really impressive this preseason. On the flip side, we have these veteran guys that we can rely on whether it’s Pave or Christian on a three-game weekend swinging to set-up roles, Ryan Deom, Teddy Tolliver or our two-way guys in Perich and Rother. We really like the combination of what they bring, just a power for an inning. We’re about eight or 10 deep where we like the look of our bullpen heading into the season. We also have some guys that are making some big strides but aren’t ready to take big roles to start the year.
The Mountain Hawks have a strong contingent at catcher this season with the return of Second Team All-Patriot League selection Adam Retzbach, who’s made an immediate impact through his first two years on the team. In addition to Retzbach, sophomore Andrew Nole made an impact with his bat as the team’s primary designated hitter a year ago, and the impending debut of first year Justin Butler will give Lehigh some of the best depth of any position group this year.
“This is deepest catching group I’ve ever had in 27 years as head coach,” Leary said. “All three are fully capable of being the number one catcher and are all capable of hitting in the middle of the lineup at some point in their careers and it may be this year. We’re very fortunate where that is and we’re going to have to be creative to find the at-bats they deserve. We always say that if you don’t have two capable catchers, you’re in trouble and we feel like we have three.
“Adam has been pretty amazing this fall and spring with the advancements he’s made. He has the chance to be a potential force this spring and in our league. But the most impressive thing he’s done is that he’s mentored two guys underneath him that are ready to go. He’s taken those two guys under his wing and I’ve been doing this for 27 years. I’ve never had three guys where I’ve felt could go back there and get the job done, which is pretty exciting.”
Leary has talented infielders this season, both at the hot corners and up the middle. At first base, the Mountain Hawks return three-year starter Gerard Sweeney, who came on strong at the end of the season in the middle of the lineup. Over at third base is senior Joe Gorla, who earned Second Team All-Patriot League accolades a season ago and ended up on the All-Tournament team following a spectacular postseason. Both have the potential to do great things in the lineup and in the field, both from an athletic and leadership standpoint.
“We’re blessed with Sweeney and Gorla where we will have a complement of right, left and switch hitters in our lineup,” said Leary. “The lineup we put together this year is going to better for matchups, but in Sweeney, we have the guy who led the Patriot League in homers last year. And our team would echo this, Joe was our best player the last month of the season. His offensive and defensive combination is pretty terrific and what we love is that he’s taking on a leadership role right now. Our No. 2 through No. 5 hitters could go in any direction right now and they have said that wherever they are put, they’ll hit.
“They aren’t worried about statistics or what it means. But those two guys (Sweeney and Gorla) are just cornerstones of what we’re trying to do. We think we have four Player of the Year candidates on our team this season and I don’t mind saying it because I believe in it. I think they are that talented.”

Sophomores Riley Davis and Tyler Young both played a big role in holding down the middle infield for the Mountain Hawks last year, especially getting into the postseason. This year, while they are still poised to be key contributors, there’s even more of an influx of talent at second base and shortstop this year, which makes it one of the more depth-filled areas of the team for the upcoming year.
“I think what’s great about those two guys is that they were thrown into the fire and they responded wonderfully,” said Leary. “They had struggles, kept plugging away and by the end of the season, they were both producing at the highest level of their seasons. I think Riley and Tyler will certainly be in the competition for those two spots up the middle. Rafe Perich is also in the mix for one of those spots.
“Those three give us really great options at those positions and first year Sam Holtz is our utility backup up the middle and really solid at everything. Davis, Young and Perich will fight to have those starting jobs, but what’s wonderful is that if you don’t have depth at catcher and up the middle, when the inevitable ‘stuff’ happens, you go young and inexperienced. I don’t think we are going to have that issue this year because guys have playing experience. That will be a fun situation to watch play out. We believe we have about 12 everyday starters this year and only nine are going to win the jobs. That to us is how iron sharpens iron. To Rafe’s credit, he’s a first year that comes in ready to contribute he’s going to be right in the mix to have a starting job on day one.”
The outfield will look a tiny bit different this season with reigning Patriot League Player of the Year Casey Rother switching over from left field to right field and the departure of four-year starter Quinn McKenna to graduation. This year will see the debuts of first year talent, as well as new faces over at left field in the mix with veteran players.
“Casey moves over to right this year,” Leary said. “He literally comes into the office and asks where he can help the team best this year. In center field, we move first year Jake Whitlinger over from second base. He’s done a really great job and should be our day one starting center fielder. Drew Morse has won left field and Chase Carlson will also play a role for us as well. What’s great is that we have four outfielders that have played enough that we know will be in the mix.
“Those are the four guys we’re counting on with Andrew Kohl really giving us something to think about after a strong fall.”
The designated hitter role is always a fun one to predict with any of the top offensive talents able to step up and take that position, if there isn’t a spot in the field for them. Andrew Nole was that player last season and with Retzbach starting the bulk of the games at catcher this year, he will surely be the front-runner once again to win the job.
“We’ve got Andrew who returns and would be our DH from the first game,” said Leary. “Whether we have a veteran like Chase (Carlson) or Adam (Retzbach) on a day off or Justin (Butler) or Rafe (Perich). When someone is trying to win a job in the field, one of the options becomes being the DH. We like that we may have an every day guy do that, but the depth of our team will be such where someone is playing really well at short and it bumps the other guy to DH.
“But we need to let those Top 12 guys sort of figure things out over the first three or so weeks of the season, but we like the competition behind those guys as well.”
The Mountain Hawks kick off the season at Davidson this weekend before heading down south to Colonial Heights, Va. next week to take on Mount St. Mary’s at a neutral site. The 2022 slate is regional this year with the furthest the team is traveling being Davidson, N.C. Even so, the campaign is scheduled to contain 50-plus games for the first time since 2018 against quality non-league opponents, perfect preparation for a grueling Patriot League schedule.
“We did a regional schedule just to protect ourselves from the potential COVID issues that are popping up with some teams making schedule changes,” said Leary. “But Davidson is an example of what it’s like to face the top of the Patriot League. They have the arms that an Army West Point will have and so we love that matchup early in the season, because it’s just two similar programs and they mirror what the upper echelon of our conference looks like.
“Some of the other matchups this year is just to get us in a position to get ready for the Patriot League campaign. We’re doing a four-game, then a three-game and all the modeling is set up so when we get to the fifth week of the season, we have our rotation and our lineup pretty much set. I like the combination this year. We bounce back and forth between the Atlantic 10, the Big South and a good mix of schools. The most fun thing about our schedule this year is that we have a travel itinerary this year. We didn’t have one until May last year. Our kids were smiling about the fact that they were going to be getting on a flight because we have two classes that have never done that. It’s going to be classic college baseball again, so that’s super exciting.”
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