Last weekend the Panthers hit the road to face Hamilton for a three-game series. Rarely can a baseball series be called a “must-sweep.” However, given the way that the conference standings have shaken out, this was as close to a must-sweep as you can get. Middlebury came up with the win in all three games, returning to school Saturday night with their seven-game winning streak intact.
Though the first of the weekend’s games on Friday, April 27 remained scoreless in the first four innings, the Panthers overcame a two-run deficit in the fifth to tie it up with a double from Alan Guild ’20. Despite a bit of back-and-forth action in the following innings, strong performances at the plate from Hayden Smith ’20, Andrew Hennings ’20 and Brooks Carroll ’20 allowed the Panthers to come out on top with a 5–3 win.
The victory was spearheaded by captain Colby Morris ’19, who threw a complete game. Morris racked up six strikeouts, allowing six hits, issuing only three walks, and surrendering only one earned run.
Morris’ start on Friday tied him at the top with Tyler Conrad ’02 for the highest number of career starts in Middlebury baseball history. He also stands at fourth for career innings pitched, with a total of 176.
Even in hitting this impressive milestone, Morris remains extremely focused and hardworking. “To be honest, I really couldn’t care less about being tied for the most career starts,” said a humble Morris. “It definitely shows that I throw a lot, and that’s something I try to do for the pitching staff. Starting in one of the first games of the weekend means I want to go as deep as possible to save the bullpen for later in each series, helping us as a whole.”
Morris’ contributions to the team are widely recognized and commended by teammates, although you would not be able to tell from his sportsmanship and humility. Phil Bernstein ’19, who has played with Morris the past three years, spoke volumes about the character of his teammate on and of the field.
“Colby’s always been a stellar pitcher for us but has really been lights out for us this year,” Bernstein said. “We always know he’s going to give us a chance to win when he’s on the mound, and his passion for the game is contagious. It’s been great for team morale, and he’s set a good example for the younger guys.”
Middlebury stuck around Clinton, New York, for a doubleheader Saturday, April 28. Middlebury garnered strong wins in both games, coming up with a final score of 9–3 in the first game and 10–3 in the second.
Smith started the scoring off in the morning in the top of the third off an error from Hamilton and continued to ring them in with an RBI in the fifth, a six-run inning in which it all came together for Middlebury’s offense. Hamilton’s attempts to answer were thwarted, and the Panthers walked away with an easy 10–3 victory.
Senior captain Rob Erikson ’18 and Drew Martinson ’20 earned the wins on the mound last Saturday, while Henry Strmecki ’21 and Smith again held down the fort on the offensive side.
The Panthers got on the scoreboard quickly with three runs in the first inning of the second game. Fielding errors by Hamilton allowed Justin Han ’20, Smith and Guild to cross the plate effortlessly. Middlebury scored four more in the third inning, taking a 7–0 lead, and then tacked on another run in the fifth.
Hamilton scored one run in each of the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, but it wasn’t nearly enough to counter Middlebury, who added on another two runs in the ninth inning to seal the win at 10–3.
Of note at the plate was Grant Elgarten ’20, with one triple, and Strmecki, who had a pair of triples. Additionally, Sam Graf ’19 hit his first home run of the season to give the Panthers their sixth run.
The wins at Hamilton last weekend marked the team’s second sweep against a conference opponent team this season and put the Panthers on a seven-game winning streak.
Many teams might crumble under the pressure of upholding this streak, but the Panthers see it only as a confidence booster and are planning to bring that same positive energy into upcoming games.
“We’re starting to peak at the right time, and with our most important games at home against a team that we are always fired up to play against, I think we’re all just excited to get on the field against Amherst,” Bernstein said.
“The more you win in a must-win position, the more rewarding it is,” Morris said. “We are starting to put something special together and just need to keep pushing. Sweeping the other teams certainly helps to build our confidence and teaches us exactly what we need to do to close out games.”
As the season grows nearer to the end, the prospect of winning a conference championship becomes a closer reality for the Panthers. Middlebury will continue to fight on throughout this week, but the biggest challenge of the season will be this weekend’s series against Amherst.