There was a time when it appeared the Lafayette baseball team had little hopes of making the playoffs.
The day was Wednesday, April 7, and the team had just lost their eighth consecutive game, this time falling to rival Lehigh 7-6 in extra innings. The Leopards were 4-9 and had beaten just one conference opponent, Holy Cross – the basement-dwellers of the Patriot League this spring. The losses weighed on the players, but not for long.
“We had a rough eight-game losing streak in the middle of the season, but we kept our heads down, ended up snapping out of it, and won a lot of the remainder of our games,” freshman pitcher Luke Benneche wrote in an email. “Once we realized how successful we could be, we never looked back.”
The Leopards indeed responded, winning their next two games and beating Lehigh a week later for their only win against the Mountain Hawks this spring. Lafayette amassed a 9-6 record after the eight-game losing streak, catapulting the team into the postseason as the number three seed.
Last weekend the comeback bid came up short for the Leopards, as the team dropped two of three games to second-seeded Army in the conference semifinals. Lafayette ends their season with a 14-17 overall record and a 12-13 mark in the Patriot League.
“We fought,” Benneche said. “Unfortunately, we came up short.”
The Leopards dropped game one to the Black Knights by a score of 8-6, with senior outfielder Colin Hartey and freshman infielder Blaze Fadio providing the offensive punch. Hartey went 2-4 and Fadio went 1-4 with each recording two RBIs, while sophomore outfielder Pete Ciuffreda and junior catcher Dylan Minghini chipped in an RBI apiece.
Lafayette outhit the Black Knights 11-8 but the difference in the game may have been the walks: the Leopard hurlers gave away 13 free passes while Army gave away just five. Junior starting pitcher Kyle Subers went 3.2 innings and struck out two but struggled with his command, walking seven.
“I felt that I left it all out on the field every time I took the mound,” Subers said. “While there are some points in games that I wish I could have back, I thought that I competed well and a lot of my hard work was reflected on the field.”
The Leopards scored the first two runs of the game and held a 4-3 lead after a Fadio solo shot in the sixth inning, but the Black Knights scored in the sixth, seventh and eighth to open up an 8-4 lead. Late RBI knocks from Minghini and Hartey in the ninth inning narrowed the gap, but the Leopards ultimately lost 8-6.
“I felt that the team competed very well all weekend but just came up a little short,” Subers said. “We played together as a unit and our team chemistry really helped us pick each other up this past weekend.”
Lafayette flipped the script in game two with a lopsided 10-1 win to even the series at 1-1. Hartey shined again at the plate, hitting 3-4 and scoring three times. Junior utility man Zach Savage had three RBIs with a sac fly and a two-run homer, and Ciuffreda went 2-4 with a pair of RBIs. Senior infielder Ethan Stern went 2-4 and scored twice, while Fadio clubbed a two-run homer for his lone hit on the afternoon.
The Leopards scored the first five runs of the game and never looked back, outhitting Army 11-6 and making the most of their offensive opportunities. Benneche went 6.2 innings and allowed one unearned run while striking out four, and freshman pitcher Adam Bogosian tossed a scoreless 2.1 innings to close out the win.
“I’d take the field with this group of guys any day of the week,” Benneche said. “I was really proud to be a part of this team, and felt happy with my own performance this year. Being surrounded by teammates who pushed me to be better and learning from the players and coaches around me allowed me to be successful on the mound.”
The Leopards lost 7-3 in the decisive game three on Sunday to wrap up their season. Army scored twice in the first inning to take a 2-0 lead before Minghini halved the advantage with an RBI single, the first of his two hits on the afternoon. The Black Knights scored twice more in the second inning and extended their lead to 4-1, but Minghini came back with an RBI triple in the sixth inning that brought the score to 4-2.
A three-run homer by Army in the sixth inning put the game out of reach, with a solo homer by Hartey providing the last run for the Leopards en route to the season-ending loss. Lafayette was outhit 9-7 and left two more runners on base than the Black Knights. Sophomore pitcher Jake Bloss threw 5.2 innings and allowed seven earned runs while striking out six, and fellow sophomore hurler Jacob Ciccone finished the game with 2.1 scoreless innings.
Despite the loss, Benneche is already excited to take the field again for fall ball.
“I cannot wait to get back here and go to work in the fall in preparation for next season,” he said. “As a team, we’ve barely scratched the surface of our potential.”
The team will graduate seven seniors this spring with Hartey and Stern as major losses from the offensive side of the plate. The other members of the graduating class are pitchers Mike Dunn and Tyler Faccenda, infielder Bill Russo, outfielder Michael Landry and catcher Hunter Silvernail.
“The guys who are graduating this year are leaving behind a legacy and energy that we want to continue building,” Benneche said. “I’m fired up to go to battle with this team again and make a run for a championship.”