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Local bats help Mountain Hawks soar


Butler service.

Over a six-game span in mid-March, all six of which were Lehigh wins, first-year catcher Justin Butler put on a fireworks show. The Quakertown product homered four times, doubled three times and drove in nine.

Countrywide media took notice and Collegiate Baseball named Lehigh’s Butler as its national Player of the Week.

Ironically, Butler’s defense put him on Lehigh head coach Sean Leary’s radar. “We liked how he handled the staff and Justin’s leadership. He was a catcher you could build around,” Leary described. “He is cut from the same cloth as Tyler (Young). Justin put in the time with our hitting coach. I don’t know if I’ve ever had a player with seven home runs in 20 games – let alone a freshman – so that was exciting because that tool often takes until about junior year to click.”

“When I got to Lehigh in the fall, I was a nervous freshman,” Butler conceded. “Once I started to be around the team and click around them, I got much more comfortable. And the winter was Go Time. That was when I started working really hard with countless hours in the cages and the gym. When I got into my first game against Davidson on Feb. 20, I tried to take my opportunity as best as I could and it worked out.

“Having the team behind my back definitely helped me to click,” concluded Butler, who hit a grand slam in the Davidson game. “And my coaches had my back every step of the way.”

Butler’s performance would have been hard to top unless your name were “Trout” or “Harper.” Yet Lehigh sophomore shortstop Young gave his teammate a run for his money. CB East’s Young scored 10 runs over the same span while hitting .500 (10-for-20) and thumping four doubles.

He also handled 28 of his 30 chances cleanly. Young’s run earned him the Brooks Wallace Player of the Week, given to the nation’s best shortstop.

The memory of Lehigh losing at home in the 2021 Patriot League championship etched itself in Young’s mind. “When we saw Army dogpile on our home field, it really hit me and I wanted to spend the next nine months doing everything I could to get back to that same spot and help my team,” Young shared. “From my individual perspective, I didn’t really notice how I was playing because we were winning and that was all I cared about. Then I was selected for the Brooks Wallace Award Watch List, and that was when I realized that I was actually doing this.

“But at the end of the day,” Young emphasized, “it is all about wins and I just want to help my team win.”

The Mountain Hawks went 26-24 and advanced to the Patriot League tournament. First-years Andrew Kohl of CB West (one homer and seven RBIs) and Jack Hamilton of CB East (.242 batting average against in 10 pitching appearance) contributed to Lehigh. But Young and Butler stand out across the Patriot League for their superlative seasons.

Butler’s .663 slugging percentage led Lehigh and his seven homers were third on the team – remarkable since he missed the entire second half of the season to injury.

“During the last 30 games of the season where I sadly had to sit down, I definitely learned how to become a better teammate,” Butler admitted, “cheering them on and doing what the guys did for me when I was playing. Or trying to help them if I saw something.”

Young’s .348 average and .439 on base percentage both ranked second on Lehigh and helped to earn him a second team all-Patriot League selection. Young raised his batting average an eye-popping 143 points from his freshman campaign, a year where he still started 32 games on the regular season champions.

Leary kept first-year Young in the lineup at second base: confident in his defense and his ability to turn a corner.

“I always played shortstop. I always felt I could hit,” Young assessed. “As a freshman, I was really worried about messing up and being pulled from the game. Instead, in my sophomore year I was very confident in myself.”

“Tyler might have made as big of a jump of anybody that I’ve coached,” Leary stated. “He wants to be good and then he wants to be great. He knew he was pretty good last year but he came back a better defender, better on offense … every part of his game improved and that sort of work ethic and mindset rubs off on his teammates.”

“Losing my senior year (at East) with COVID was definitely tough,” Young recalled. “But at the same time, that free time gave me a chance to get in the weight room and gain weight. I think my determination to win and do anything it takes to win gave me a shot to play. Once I got to play, I never looked back.

“When I grew up, I was always the smaller kid,” Young continued, “and my dad always told me to never stop. It’s going to work out if you keep working hard. I stuck with it and thanks to him, I’m here playing Division I baseball.”

Young is spending this summer with the Albany Dutchmen in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. He debuted on June 3 and went 6-for-10 with a homer and seven RBIs in his opening three games. “I definitely want to win as many games as possible and get as many at-bats as possible,” he said. “My goal would be to show more power at the plate.”

Butler is spending his summer rehabbing, targeting fall ball as a return. “I trust my trainers and doctors. I’m trying to take it day by day. It’s not like we’re playing a four-game series next weekend,” he pointed out.

The teammates are using different avenues to pursue the same goal. “I tell people plain and simple: we’re a family. I think we pride ourselves on telling each other what we need to hear, instead of what we want to hear, because we know it is better in the long run,” Butler said.

“And our one big family all has the common goal of a Patriot League championship,” he continued. “The Road to the Ring. That is what we’re trying to build here at Lehigh: to win one Patriot League championship and then to win continuously after that.”