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Baseball Starts Season with Away Win

Ethan Brady

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After a dismal 4-24 season last year, the Middlebury baseball team started its season off on Saturday, March 19, with a 2-1 loss and a 4-3 win in a double-header against Bates in Northborough, Mass. The Bobcats took the win in the seven inning, low-scoring first game, but the Panthers grabbed the night cap with a walk-off home run by Sam Graf ’19.

“Both games were close and came down to the final out,” said Colby Morris ’19, Middlebury’s starting pitcher in the first game. “The fact that we were able to come back from a tough loss in the first game to walk-off in extra innings in the second game really showed a resilience that should help us down the stretch against NESCAC opponents.”

Game one tipped in favor of the Panthers early, as they took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Max Araya ’16 cracked a double to deep left field and scored when Jason Lock ’17 forced a Bates error.

Bates mustered an answer in the bottom of the second. Eric Vilanova ripped a homer for the Bobcats to centerfield, scoring Asher MacDonald from first and putting his team ahead 2-1.

In the third inning, Graf reached first on a hit by pitch. Jake Turtel ’18 singled just after, and on a wild pitch the runners each advanced a base. With Middlebury gunning to score, Bates starting pitcher Conor Colombo struck out back-to-back hitters to end the inning. The Panthers threatened again in the fourth. Joe MacDonald ’16 and Drew Coash ’18 both walked, but Colombo again managed to close the inning, this time with a double play.

By the top of the seventh, Bates still led 2-1. John Luke ’16 and Johnny Read ’17 managed to get on first and second, and Graf bunted them to second and third. With two outs remaining in the game, the Bobcats brought Rob DiFranco in to pitch. He managed to force the next two hitters to hit ground out back to him and secure the win for Bates.

“Our hitting was solid, but we missed lots of opportunities throughout the day with runners in scoring position and less than two outs, not executing the way we are going to need to,” Morris said.

The Panthers were the home team for the nightcap, and again took an early lead by scoring two runs in the second inning. The 2-0 lead came when MacDonald walked, Phil Bernstein ’19 singled, and Brendan Donohue ’18 ripped a double, sending MacDonald and Bernstein to home plate. In the third, Luke doubled in Araya to give the Panthers a three run lead.

Bates posted an impressive three-run effort in the fourth inning. Middlebury starter John Bunting ’19 allowed one double and a single. Bates’ Brendan Fox placed a two-run home run in deep right field to tie the game at 3-3.

The teams clashed in the eighth as they vied to go ahead. MacDonald was intentionally walked and Araya and Bernstein were hit by two of Bates reliever Chris Ward’s pitches. With bases loaded and one out, Ward dealt two strikeouts to keep the score tied. That set Graf up for his heroics the next inning. In the bottom of the ninth with one out, Graf knocked the baseball over the left field fence to bring home the win for the Panthers.

“Overall the team played tight defense and threw strikes, highlighted by a stellar performance from the bullpen in the second game when three different relievers (Jake Stalcup ’17, Dylan Takamori ’17, and Conor Himstead ’19) all had scoreless appearances to shut down Bates and give us opportunities to score the final run,” Morris said. “We are definitely stoked to get the first win out of the way.”

The Panthers will travel to Tucson, Arizona for their spring break trip, where they will play 10 games in eight days, including a three-game series with NESCAC opponent Williams.

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Baseball Starts Season with Away Win