Softball Goes 1-2 in NESCAC Tourney

By Kelsey Hoekstra

The Middlebury Softball team concluded a successful season this weekend with a dramatic NESCAC playoff run, recording a win against a pair of losses in the conference tournament.

The Panthers opened the playoffs with a shutout loss to the eventual NESCAC champion Tufts on Friday, May 1. The Jumbos got on the board quickly, scoring a run in the bottom of the first. Middlebury threatened in the third inning, when Ali Della Volpe ’18 reached on error, followed by singles by Christina Bicks ’15 and Jackie Stearn ’16. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Tufts pitcher Allyson Formier navigated her way out of the jam to leave the bases loaded. The Panthers left runners on base in the fifth and sixth innings, and Tufts scored an insurance run in the sixth. Middlebury pitcher Neve Stearns ’16 took the loss.

The playoff tournament followed a double-elimination format, so the Panthers had another opportunity to continue their season. They rose to the occasion, defeating the Bowdoin Polar Bears 2-0 on Saturday, May 2. 

The game remained scoreless until the fifth, when Kat Maehr ’16 walked and reached second on a fielder’s choice on a hit from Carlyn Vachow ’16. Later, Siobhan O’Sullivan ’17 doubled to drive in the first run. Bowdoin threatened in the top of the sixth inning, but Allison Quigley ’18 deftly survived the jam.

Stearn scored Middlebury’s second run in the bottom of the sixth through some smart base running. She walked, reached second on a ground out, and then scored on a Bowdoin error on a hit from Vachow. Quigley recorded the win and Stearns earned the save, combining for seven shutout innings.

Later in the day the Panthers faced Williams for their third game of the weekend. For the fourth time this season, Williams managed to overpower the Panthers.

The game remained scoreless until the fourth inning, when the Ephs scored three runs kicked off by a double from Taylor Donze. Williams followed up their three-run fourth inning with another three runs in the fifth, headlined by a two-run home run off of the bat of Lexi Curt.

Middlebury logged only one hit over the first five innings off of a single by Hye-Jin Kim ’17 in the third. The Panthers finally hit their offensive stride in the sixth inning. Della Volpe and Bicks led off the inning with back-to-back singles, and both advanced on a wild pitch. Vachow then drove them both in with a single, and Erin Giles ’17 later plated Vachow.

However, Williams pitcher Emma Harrington regained her footing and retired the next four batters to finish the game and end the season for the Panthers.

Middlebury finished its season with a 20-11 record, an improvement on last year’s 19-16 record. The team finished in the top four in the conference’s regular season and advanced to the postseason for the fifth consecutive year, continuing the longest streak of postseason appearances in the program’s relatively brief history.

The 2016 Panthers will have every opportunity to expand upon this recent string of successes, as the team will return many of their top-performing players from this year’s season.

Juniors Maehr and Vachow have established themselves among the conference’s most feared hitters this season — with both hitting over .300 and driving in 16-plus runs. Maehr has been particularly key for the Panthers, reaching base in exactly half of her plate appearances this season.

Sarah Freyre ’17 and O’Sullivan will similarly look to take on increased roles in the offense after breakout years at the plate in 2015.

On the mound, first-year Quigley solidified herself as the staff ace this year, holding opposing teams to less than two runs per game and striking out more than 100 batters as she racked up a 13-4 record on the season. With three more seasons left in Quigley’s career in Middlebury blue, the Panthers are nearly assured of continued success in the near future.

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