Baseball Walks Off Not Once, But Twice

PANTHERS WIN FOUR STRAIGHT TO REGAIN FOOTING

By JENNY LANGERMAN

MICHAEL BORENSTEIN/THE MIDDLEBURY CAMPUS

The baseball team walked away with four wins this past week, beating the Skidmore Thoroughbreds on the road on Wednesday, April 18, and then sweeping Bowdoin in a three-game series on home turf on Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22.

Middlebury picked up a win in non-conference midweek action against Skidmore last Wednesday, coming up with a 5–1 win. The Panthers scored early in the game, putting up two runs in the first inning, and then tacked on one in each of the third, fifth and seventh innings. Skidmore was held to just one run, which came in the fourth inning.

Justin Han ’20 led the charge, getting on base all five of his times at the plate and finishing the day with three singles, two walks and four of the team’s five runs.

This all-star caliber performance is nothing new from the sophomore infielder, as he leads the team in almost every offensive category. Han has teams highs with 25 runs, 28 hits and 15 RBI’s, and boasts an impressive .373 batting average and a whopping .510 on-base percentage.

“My goal for this season was to provide offensive production and be consistent in the field making defensive plays,” says Han.
His offensive movement has been key to the team’s success this year and certainly has not gone unnoticed.

“Justin Han has been integral to our team, as expected. Stealing bases and racking up the hits, he is incredibly consistent and such a fun guy to play with,” said Hayden Smith ’20.

On the mound, Colby Morris ’19 allowed only one run on six hits while striking out four. This junior captain’s consistency has been crucial to the Panthers’ defense this season. With nine pitching appearances under his belt thus far, seven of which he started, Morris has managed to strike out 41 of his opponents — a team-high.

Senior Captain Rob Erickson ’18 is also worth noting. Against the Thoroughbreds he tallied three strikeouts and gave up just two hits over three innings. After last weekend’s Bowdoin series, Erickson tails only Morris in many pitching categories thanks to his efforts over eight appearances.

The Panthers then returned home to face their third Nescac opponent of the year, Bowdoin. Middlebury saw the Polar Bears on Friday, April 21, in the first of the teams’ three-game series. After falling behind 4–0, Middlebury clawed its way back to take a 6–5 lead, which the Panthers extended to as many as three runs. But Bowdoin responded, getting within one run twice, before tying the game at 10 in the top of the ninth inning.

In the bottom half of the inning, Middlebury quickly took away any doubt of the result. They loaded the bases with one out, and Smith finished the game off by singling home Han.

“My reaction to the walk-off was pure happiness,” Smith said afterwards. “There’s nothing that gets me more fired up than being the guy that wins the game for my team, and Saturday was the ultimate display of that. And the team was fired up too — it was a spark plug for our bench and our offense, I think. And my mindset was to hit the ball hard. I knew I was the guy to deliver right here, and I embraced the moment. Saw my pitch and put my best swing on it.”

The Panthers saw the Polar Bears again the next day for a doubleheader, both games of which ended in Middlebury’s favor.
While the Bears came out strong in the first game, scoring two runs right off the bat, Middlebury answered with a pair of runs off a single up the middle from captain Sebastian Sanchez ’18 to tie the score up at two all. Neither team scored until the sixth inning, when miscommunications between the Panthers’ defense allowed the Polar Bears get some insurance runs across the plate.

Bowdoin tacked on one more in the seventh, but the Panthers rivaled it with three runs in bottom of the inning, closing the game with a 5-4 victory. Henry Strmecki ’21, Han and Brooks Carroll ’20 led the team with strong performances at the plate.

The Panthers came out even stronger in the second game of the day, shutting out the Polar Bears for a 3–0 win. Erickson put the team on his right shoulder in the shutout, striking out four Polar Bears while allowing only four hits through seven innings.
Jake Dianno ’21 was big for the Panthers with the bat in his hand, the highlight of the weekend for him being a second-inning shot to right field that sailed over the fence for his first home run at the collegiate level.

“It was an awesome experience, and it was just great to be able to come through for my team,” said an excited Dianno.

Though the Polar Bears threatened to answer in the fifth inning, Middlebury held them to no score and tacked on two more with runs in the bottom of the sixth to seal the deal.

The Panthers’ success was a much-needed confidence booster. Before last week, the team held a 6–13 record and was coming off a tough series loss to Wesleyan and another non-conference loss to Southern Vermont. The past week has turned that around.

Middlebury’s sights are still set high on the conference championship, and the team feels this is definitely a step in the right direction and a confirmation of their ability.

“[Bowdoin] left us with an incredible amount of confidence and proof that we have the talent and capability to find ways to win games,” Han said.

“I really like how the team is performing. We have momentum and confidence going into a very important series against Hamilton this weekend,” Han added. His confidence moving forward is shared by Dianno.

“This sweep was a great way to get us going heading into our weekend at Hamilton,” Dianno said.

After some non-conference midweek action, the Panthers head to Hamilton for a big road series this weekend.

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Baseball Walks Off Not Once, But Twice