Dismal Season Comes to an End for Panther Baseball

By Andrew Rigas

The Middlebury baseball team capped off this season with a 1-5 week, slugging its way past Skidmore before falling to Plymouth State and twice each to Bowdoin and Tufts. The Panthers end the season with a 4-24 overall record and a 1-11 mark in the NESCAC to finish last in the conference for the second straight year.

After a tightly contested ballgame for eight innings at Skidmore on Tuesday, April 28, Middlebury emphatically put the host away with a 10-run ninth to seal a 14-4 victory.

Down 1-0 heading into the top of the sixth inning, the Panthers put up three runs on four hits to take their first lead of the contest. Entering the ninth up 4-3, Middlebury sought to give their bullpen a little insurance. They did just that by stringing together eleven hits — including back-to-back home runs by first-years Raj Palekar ’18 and Drew Coash ’18 — to score ten runs, and eventually secure a 14-4 win.

Starting on the hill for the Panthers against Skidmore, Eric Truss ’15 tossed an excellent game, allowing two runs — neither earned — on five hits and no walks over six innings, while the offense tallied twenty hits in his support.

If only Middlebury had saved a little bit of that offensive firepower for the rest of the week. On Wednesday, April 29, the Panthers couldn’t overcome an early 7-3 hole to ultimately lose 8-4 to Plymouth St. in the seniors’ final home contest.

The Panthers went ahead 3-1 early behind consecutive singles from John Luke ’16 and Max Araya ’16 in the bottom of the first. Plymouth stormed back with six runs of their own as the Panthers couldn’t stop getting in the way of themselves, committing two costly errors. With a five-run deficit heading into the bottom of the ninth, Middlebury only managed one run and fell in its last game at Forbes of the season 8-4.

The Panthers traveled to Brunswick, Maine on Saturday, May 2 for a doubleheader with NESCAC East foe Bowdoin. The Panthers fell behind early as starting pitcher Robert Erickson ’18 surrendered three runs in the first frame.

Neither team could plate any runs in the next five innings as Erickson settled down nicely to toss his first career complete game. Middlebury entered the seventh with one last chance to extend the game. Rizzo doubled and scored on a wild pitch, and Dylan Sinnickson ’15 made it a one run game with his blast over the fence, but their efforts weren’t enough as Jason Lock ’17 grounded out to end the ferocious comeback attempt at 3-2.

In the second game of the doubleheader, Middlebury never led and lost 8-2, not scoring until the last inning. Starting pitcher Tucker Meredith ’17, returning from injury,  got roughed up in his two innings on the hill as the Panthers fell behind 4-0. The deficit grew to eight after six, and once again it was too little too late for the Middlebury bats, putting up two when it needed eight in its last chance at the plate. Sinnickson keyed the Panther offense again with two hits and one RBI.

Middlebury was at Tufts on Sunday, May 3 for another NESCAC East doubleheader and its last two games of the season. The first game of two ended in heartbreak when the Jumbos walked off in the seventh on a single. Down 1-0 entering the fourth, Joe MacDonald ’16 knocked in the first Panther run of the day with a sacrifice fly. Then the Panthers took the lead in the fifth on an Araya double.

Up 2-1 with two outs and no one on base in the bottom of the seventh, Truss was one out away from recording a win in his final game on the mound in a Middlebury uniform when disaster struck. Two singles and an intentional walk set the stage for Matt Moser who knocked in the game-winning run for a 3-2 Tufts win by controversially beating out a groundball to the left side.

The Panthers jumped on the Jumbos early in the second game of the day behind a Palekar double to take a 1-0 lead after one. Tufts controlled the game after that point, scoring eight unanswered runs off starting pitcher Cooper Byrne ’15 — in his last game as a Panther. Middlebury added one more in the seventh on a Sinnickson sacrifice fly, but it wasn’t nearly enough as they fell 8-2 in their final game of the year.

With a final record of 4-24, the Panthers end 2015 with their eighth consecutive losing record. The 24 losses match last year’s team for the most in the program’s history, and the team’s winning percentage of .142 is the worst since the 1967 Panthers went 0-10.

It was another tough season for the Panthers, but Coach Bob Smith and his team have the potential to improve upon this season with 22 of their 27 players returning next year, including a number of key cogs in the lineup and the pitching staff. With a solid year’s development from some of these talented young players — and a bit of luck — 2016 could be the year that the Panthers turn the corner and make noise in the NESCAC.