By ANDY KIRKALDY
MIDDLEBURY — In an doubleheader offering about as much drama as possible between two college softball teams hovering around the .500 mark, Middlebury swept Skidmore on Tuesday afternoon, 3-1 in the first game and 7-6 in eight innings in the second game in their first home contests after an 11-game trip to California.
In the opener, sophomore hurler Geena Constantin tied the Panther single-game strikeout record at 15. In the nightcap, the Panthers scored five times with two outs in the seventh inning to force extra innings, then won in the eighth on back-up catcher Sophie Dorot’s first hit of the year.
The wins moved the Panthers, a team with just two seniors and two juniors, to 7-6 overall (1-2 in NESCAC) heading into a scheduled Wednesday doubleheader at Castleton and a weekend series at Wesleyan.
Coach Kelly Bevere said her young team would get a shot in the arm from both Constantin’s step forward — she entered the game with a 3-1 record, but with a middling earned-run average of 4.24 and 38 strikeouts and 42 hits in 34.2 innings — and the second-game comeback.
“For them, it’s huge,” Bevere said. “It will be great for us in the long run, especially with NESCAC play.”
Constantin showed her mettle early. After Skidmore first baseman Michelle Anderson doubled to lead off the first and was sacrificed to third, Constantin struck out the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in the Skidmore lineup.
The Panthers then pounced on Thoroughbred starter Sam Crose for all three of their runs in the first inning. Sophomore centerfielder Leslie Crawford was hit by a pitch with one out, and singles by senior third baseman Amelia Magistrali, sophomore first baseman Megan Margel, and Constantin plated Crawford. With two out, senior rightfielder Natalie Komrovsky lined a single to center to score Magistrali and Margel.
Crose (six hits, three Ks, one walk) shut the door the rest of the way, allowing no more than one baserunner in any inning. But Constantin outdueled the Skidmore freshman, despite surrendering a towering home run to Skidmore shortstop Caitlin Ketcham in the second inning. Ketcham’s shot ricocheted off the centerfield scoreboard.
But Constantin — throwing hard, but more importantly hitting her spots — allowed just one more hit, a single in the fourth, and struck out at least two batters in every inning heading into the seventh.
By that time Middlebury officials covering the game had determined that former Panther standout Megan McCarthy set the program record of 15 in 2005.
In the seventh, Constantin struck out the cleanup hitter leading off to tie the mark. Ketcham then lined to center, with Crawford making a fine running catch, and the final batter hit a hard ground ball to third, and Magistrali reached to her left to snare it and made the throw to first to seal the win — and end Constantin’s bid for the record.
Bevere praised her sophomore hurler.
“Geena was just unbelievable in the first game. It was just what we needed, because we didn’t get our bats going except for that one inning,” she said.
In the second game, Crose held the Panthers in check for six innings. She threw hard, and again showed good control, walking just two.
Meanwhile, the Thoroughbreds were happy to see someone other than Constantin, and made steady contact against freshman starter Ashley Higgins. In the third, they broke through for four runs, all unearned after Komrovsky dropped a one-out fly ball in right field.
Anderson singled that hitter home, and the next hitter also singled. After another out that should have been the third of the inning, Lauren Dinsdale blasted a three-run homer to left to make it 4-0.
Sophomore Ali McAneney relieved Higgins (4.0 innings, eight hits, no walks, one K) after Skidmore’s leadoff batter lined a double off the left-field fence in the fifth and earned the win. McAneney allowed five hits and two unearned runs in four innings of work, striking out six and walking one. Anderson singled home the fifth Skidmore run in the sixth inning after a single and a passed ball.
Then the Panthers suddenly came to life in the seventh, despite missing two outfield starters who were taking exams. Freshman Kira Gordon bunted her way on with one out, and with two out Crawford legged out an infield hit. Magistrali doubled to right center, and it was 5-2. Margel singled to put runners on first and third, and Constantin hit a fly ball to right center that the Skidmore centerfielder dropped after a long run: 5-3.
That brought up Komrovsky, who atoned for her earlier error by plunking a single into short right field that tied the game at 5-5.
In the extra inning, both teams started runners at second base with none out. Derrin Jarvis singled home the Skidmore runner, and the next hitter also singled. A bunt moved up the runners, but McAneney took care of the next two hitters with a strikeout and a comebacker to the mound,
For Middlebury, Alyson Downing started on second, moved up on a wild pitch, and scored when Gordon’s fly to right was dropped. Emily Burbridge singled Gordon to second, bringing Dorot — only in the game because of the absent players — to the plate. Dorot responded with an opposite-field shot over the rightfielder’s head to plate Gordon and trigger a series of hugs.
Bevere said the Panthers showed in the preseason they can hit, but had struggled in California to get their bats going.
Maybe, she said, Tuesday will remind them they can put the bat on the ball.
“They know they can hit. We know they can hit, and we’ve been trying to convey that to them that we’re confident in them, and they should be confident in themselves,” Bevere said. “Hopefully it will work for us.”