Wesleyan Sweeps Panther Baseball Team

By Andrew Rigas

The Middlebury baseball team couldn’t slow down a streaking Wesleyan team, which has won 11 of its last 12 contests, and was swept 8-5, 4-2, and 18-1 on April 17-18. The three home losses bring the Panthers to 1-17 overall and 1-11 in the NESCAC as the NESCAC West division slate comes to an end.

Entering the weekend, Wesleyan had given up the fewest runs in the conference so far this season — just over three runs per game — and was one of only two undefeated teams remaining in NESCAC play. In other words, it didn’t look promising for Coach Bob Smith and his team that entered with a 1-14 record.

Robert Erickson ’18 took the hill for the Panthers in the opening game of the series on Friday, and found himself in trouble from the get-go. With two outs and the bases loaded, a Cardinal single through the left side of the infield scored two. A solo home run the next inning, in combination with Middlebury’s failure to record a hit in the first two frames, gave the Cardinals a 3-0 lead after two.

“Scoring in the first inning, or just scoring before the other team, gives you a huge advantage,” Captain Joe MacDonald ’16 said. “It puts pressure on the other offense to come back, it forces the opposing pitchers to be a little more fine around the strike zone while also trying to avoid walks, and it allows our pitchers to throw with confidence to contact and let our fielders make plays.”

After both pitchers posted goose eggs over the next two innings, Wesleyan struck again with a double followed by a single to extend their lead to four. Middlebury answered with an identical sequence in the bottom half of the fifth as Raj Palekar ’18 stroked a double to left center and Johnny Read ’17 knocked him in on a single up the middle, scoring the first run for the Panthers.

In the top of the seventh, Eddie DeArias ’15 came on in relief of Erickson who surrendered four runs over six innings, giving his team a chance to win the ballgame. DeArias had similar problems as Erickson, allowing the first two batters he faced to reach base before conceding a two-run single. Down 6-1 after six and a half innings, the Panthers threatened to make it a game by loading the bases to start the bottom of the seventh. With one out, Read singled in another run bringing the Panthers within four, but they failed to come any closer, missing a huge opportunity and stranding three runners. They also left two runners on base in the eighth after MacDonald hit a sacrifice fly to make it a 6-3 game.

Wesleyan added two insurance runs in the top of the ninth, and Middlebury’s Andrew Corcoran ’18 responded with a two-run blast over the fence in left center to make it interesting. But it wouldn’t get any closer than that, and Wesleyan took the first game of three 8-5.

The first half of the doubleheader on Saturday, only a seven-inning game by NESCAC West rules, turned out to be another close game until the final out. Middlebury fell behind 1-0 early again on a single right back up the middle off Middlebury starting pitcher Eric Truss ’15 in the top of the first. Defensive miscues cost both teams in the second as both teams conceded one run on errors.

Neither team could muster any offense the next three innings as both pitchers seemed to settle into a rhythm. The Panther defense made amends for the error in the second by snuffing out a squeeze play to cut down a Wesleyan runner at the plate, and with centerfielder Dylan Sinnickson ’15 using his outstanding athleticism to make a diving catch on a sinking line drive.

In the top of the sixth, Wesleyan loaded the bases to start the inning and then efficiently scored two on consecutive sacrifice flies. After a Ryan Rizzo ’17 single down the right field line in the bottom half of the inning, Sinnickson crushed a double to score Rizzo and make it a 4-2 game. Unfortunately, MacDonald’s theory proved true when Middlebury couldn’t scratch out any more runs in its last chance at the plate, giving Wesleyan a 4-2 win.

“When you’re down five runs or so in the last inning, you can grind and fight as hard as you want, but you can also hit three line drives that get caught and you’re going to come up short,” MacDonald said.

After giving the Cardinals all they could handle in the first two games of the series, it seemed like the Panthers had nothing left in the tank for the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday as it was all Wesleyan. The onslaught began in the top of the second when MacDonald, who started on the mound, walked in a run then conceded a two run single to left. A two-run home run the following inning made it 5-0 after through three innings.

The game continued to slip away in the fifth when another two-run homer and an RBI double stretched the lead to eight. The Cardinals hit four home runs in the contest to power their offense, while starting pitcher Sam Elias tossed a gem, spinning seven masterful innings of shutout ball.

Down 18-0 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Panthers tried to rally and ended the shutout. Alex Deutsch ’18 and Sinnickson led off with back-to-back singles then Drew Coash ’18 singled in Middlebury’s lone run in the contest.

Middlebury will be at home again on Thursday Apr. 23 against St. Joseph before traveling to Hartford, Conn. to face off against Trinity in a NESCAC doubleheader on Saturday, Apr. 25.