MIDDLEBURY — The defending NESCAC West and league champion Middlebury College softball team swept three 8-0 games from visiting Hamilton this past weekend to earn a share of first place in the league.
The Panthers (13-7 overall, 3-0 in NESCAC West) have now won five straight games and nine of their last 10, and are tied with Amherst (21-1, 3-0) atop the league standings. Williams and Wesleyan each stand at 3-3 in NESCAC West; Amherst swept three games from Williams, and Williams took a three-game set from Wesleyan.
Both Wesleyan and Middlebury have now swept Hamilton (6-14, 0-6), the fifth NESCAC West team. The top two West squads will advance to the playoffs against the two top NESCAC East teams. Middlebury won the NESCAC tournament in 2011 and advanced to the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time in program history, finishing with a 30-8 record.
This past Saturday, Panther pitcher Elizabeth Morris tossed a five-inning, two-hit shutout in the opening game of a doubleheader. Morris struck out 11 of 15 batters, including the first six of the game, and lowered her ERA to 0.73.
Middlebury scored in every inning of the game. After the Panthers plated an unearned run in the first, in the second inning Kimber Sable stole home before back-to-back doubles from Emma Katz and Alex Scibetta made it 3-0. In the third Jessa Hoffman doubled, and scored on Jessica Poracky’s single.
Middlebury added two runs in the fourth on an RBI groundout by Christina Bicks, a Hoffman triple, and a Poracky single. The Panthers scored twice in the fifth to invoke the eight-run mercy rule. Sable singled, Katz doubled, and Scibetta doubled both of them home. Amy Appel took the loss for Hamilton, allowing seven earned runs over 4.1 innings.
In Saturday’s second game, the Panthers again scored an early unearned run to make it 1-0. In the third, they added two more to make it 3-0: Bicks, who had three hits, tripled home one run, and she scored on a Hoffman groundout.
Hamilton threatened in the third inning where they loaded the bases with one out against winning pitcher Kelsey Martel. But Martel snuffed the rally with a strikeout and a groundout.
Scibetta (two hits) doubled in a pair in the fourth inning, and Bicks singled in Scibetta to make it 5-0. Three more runs in the fifth again ended the game early. Poracky led off with a single and came home on a triple by Emily Kraytenberg. Kraytenberg scored the game-ending run on a Sable ground ball.
Martel earned the win, striking out four in the five-inning, two-hit shutout. Kelly Leonard took the loss, allowing five earned runs over 4.1 innings.
On Friday, Alexa Lesenskyj (6-3) earned the win for the Panthers with four scoreless innings, striking out five. Morris pitched one inning of relief. Leonard went 4.2 innings, striking out five, allowing eight runs, but only three earned.
Lesenskyj worked out of trouble in the first after allowing two singles to lead off the game. But she stranded both runners, who reached second and third with no outs, with two infield outs and a whiff.
The Panthers plated five runs in the second. Kraytenberg doubled and scored on Alyson Downing’s sacrifice fly. After a costly two-out Continental error allowed two more runs to score, Poracky followed with an RBI single.
Boylan drilled a homer in the third inning to make it 6-0. In the top of the fifth, Hoffman, the shortstop, protected the advantage by grabbing a line shot and doubling a runner off first. In the bottom of the inning, after another Continental miscue in the field, Hoffman singled home the game-ending runs.
Katz, Poracky and Scibetta each had a pair of hits for the Panthers.
The Panthers play a non-league doubleheader at Skidmore on Tuesday, and then will host Wesleyan in a pivotal three-game league series this weekend. The first game is set for 5 p.m. on Friday, and a doubleheader will follow at noon on Saturday.