MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College softball team won four of five home games this past weekend, including a three-game NESCAC West sweep that leaves the Panthers in a first-place tie in league play.
Overall, the Panthers are 14-8, 5-1 in league play. League rival Williams is 15-6, 5-1 in NESCAC West play. The Panthers host last-place Hamilton for a three-game set this Friday and Saturday, and will travel to Williams on April 25 and 26 for what will probably be a decisive series.
The two top teams in NESCAC West will face the two top teams in NESCAC East for the NESCAC title and an automatic NCAA Division III berth on May 2, 3 and 4.
On this past Friday and Saturday, the Panthers swept visiting Wesleyan (9-13, 2-6). On Friday, Middlebury took game one, 6-2. The Panthers took a 3-0 lead in the third when Hye-Jin Kim’s bases-loaded double off Wesleyan starter Su Pardo plated Kimber Sable, Jackie Stern and Emily Kraytenberg.
Single runs off winning pitcher Elizabeth Morris in the fourth and fifth innings cut the lead to 3-2, but the Panthers put the game away with three runs in the fifth.
Singles by Kim, Carlyn Vachow and Kelsey Martel loaded the bases. Kim scored on a passed ball, Vachow scored on Alex Scibetta’s RBI grounder, and Martel came home on a throwing error. Morris moved to 5-1 on the year for the Panthers, allowing two earned runs with five strikeouts over six innings of work. Neve Stearns pitched a scoreless seventh, and Stern finished with three hits.
On Saturday, Middlebury posted two 4-3, extra-inning victories to sweep a doubleheader.
In the opener, Wesleyan took a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-out rally. Pardo kept the Panthers in check until the fifth, when Kim doubled home Kraytenberg.
Kim also knocked home the tying run in the bottom of the seventh, singling after a walk to Stern and a single by Kraytenberg,
Both starting pitchers, Pardo and Stearns, stayed in the circle through the extra innings. In the 10th inning, following conference-mandated tiebreaker rules, a baserunner is placed at second to start each half inning.
Wesleyan opened the 10th with a SAC bunt, moving its runner to third base. With two outs, an infield hit made it 3-2, Cardinals.
In the bottom of the inning, with Middlebury’s runner at second, Vachow reached on a throwing error that allowed the Middlebury runner to score as Vachow reached second base. Sarah Freyre bunted Vachow to third, and Martel delivered the winning run with a sacrifice fly.
Pardo (6-5) took the loss, going 9.2 innings, allowing two earned runs, while striking out 10 Panthers. Stearns tossed 10 innings, allowing two earned runs with nine Ks and no walks.
Game two saw the Panthers score three runs in the first. A walk to Stern, a Kraytenberg single and a walk to Kim loaded the bases, and a Vachow double cleared them.
Morris allowed one run through four innings, but left in the fifth after allowing two singles, Kat Maehr issued a walk to load the bases, and a fielder’s choice allowed one run to score.
In the seventh, Wesleyan tied the score on a single, a sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch by Maehr and a single, and the game went to the eighth inning.
Alexa Lesenskyj came on to pitch the eighth for Middlebury and worked out of a jam. Vachow then opened the eighth inning with a smash past third base. Wesleyan misplayed the hard-hit ball in the outfield, and Vachow (three hits) came all the way around to score the winning run when it rolled to the fence.
On Sunday, the Panthers split a pair of games with visiting Keene State (10-10), winning the opener, 7-4, before dropping the nightcap, 7-6.
In game one, Kim singled, doubled, drove in four runs and scored twice to pace the Panthers. Lesenskyj (3-2) picked up the win with three innings of one-hit relief.
Kim’s three-run double and a Freyre RBI hit keyed the Panthers’ four-run first inning, but the Owls tied the game at 4-4 in the fourth. Middlebury scored three runs in the fifth, largely due to a Sable double, a Freyre RBI single, a hit-batter and a pair of errors.
In the nightcap, the Owls sent 10 batters to the plate and scored five times on seven hits in the second. The Panthers scored four times in the third, with Sable poking an RBI triple and Vachow drilling a bases-clearing double.
Middlebury took a 6-5 lead in the bottom of the fourth when Kraytenberg doubled home Siobhan O’Sullivan and Emily Smith, who had singled.
In the top of the seventh, the Owls took the lead with a walk and two singles off Stearns (3-3).
Kate Bauman logged the first 1.2 innings pitching, giving up five runs on seven hits, while Maehr went 3.2 innings, giving up one hit and striking out four.