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Panther nine to play in postseason

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College baseball team clinched its first playoff berth since 2011 by sweeping a three-game series from visiting NESCAC West foe Wesleyan this past weekend. The Panthers also topped St. Michael’s in a non-league contest.
The Panthers ran their winning streak to seven games, improved to 13-10 overall, and finished their NESCAC West slate at 8-4. Middlebury will play in the double-elimination NESCAC final four, which Colby will host from May 12 to 14.
Whether they are the No. 1 or No. 2 seed from NESCAC West will be determined this weekend, when Amherst (6-3 in the league) plays three games vs. Wesleyan (4-4 NESCAC West). The Panthers own the head-to-head tiebreaker with both teams, and if Wesleyan wins once Middlebury will finish first. If Amherst sweeps, it will nail down the top seed.
The Panthers were set to play a non-league league doubleheader on Wednesday vs. Plymouth, and will play games at Trinity on Saturday and at Skidmore on Sunday that will not count in the NESCAC West standings.
The clinching win came on Sunday, when the Panthers defeated Wesleyan, 7-4. The Cardinals dropped to 16-11 overall.
Wesleyan scored a run in the top of the first on an infield error and three walks. Middlebury took a 2-1 lead in the third. Ryan Rizzo walked, stole second, and scored on an Andrew Hennings single. Jason Lock then doubled Hennings home.
Brooks Carroll scored Alan Guild with a squeeze bunt, and Hennings, who had four hits, doubled in Gray Goolsby and Carroll.
In the top of the eighth, the Cardinals made it 5-2 on a base hit by Danny Rose and Will O’Sullivan’s two-run, bad-hop double down the third-base line. Middlebury kept the score at 5-4 with a double play. On a groundout to the pitcher, first-baseman Lock threw behind the runner at second, and Carroll threw out Rose at home trying to score on the play.
The Panthers tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom half of the inning on RBI hits by Rizzo and Lock delivered a run-scoring base hit to left. Conor Himstead retired the visitors in order in the ninth inning for his league-leading fifth save. Those five saves are also a program record.
   PANTHER FRESHMAN JUSTIN Han falls to the ground but hangs onto the ball and tags out St. Mike’s runner Joe Robertson at second base during last Thursday’s game.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Colin Waters (2-1) earned the win for the Panthers, allowing an unearned run in 5.1 innings on three hits with four strikeouts and five walks. Robert Erickson allowed three runs in two innings of relief before Himstead tossed the final 1.2 innings.
On Saturday Middlebury posted a doubleheader sweep, 7-3 and 3-2.
In the opener, Wesleyan took a 3-1 lead, scoring twice in the third on a walk, two singles, a Matt Jeye double and a throwing error, and once in the fifth on a wild pitch. Rizzo scored for the Panthers in the fourth, singling, stealing second and coming home on two throwing errors.
Then the Panthers broke things open with a six-run fifth inning.
Lock walked with the bases loaded to earn the first RBI, and Sam Graf followed with a three-run double. Justin Han capped the rally by drilling a two-run homer to left center to make it 7-3.
Spencer Shores (3-0) threw five innings to earn the victory, including working out of bases-loaded jams in the first two frames. He allowed three runs, two earned, on six hits while striking out five. Jake Stalcup tossed two innings of one-hit relief to preserve the win in the seven-inning game.
Middlebury scored all the runs it would need in the nine-inning nightcap with a three-run rally in the fourth inning. Rizzo reached on an infield single and stole second, and Lock walked. Han singled to drive in Rizzo, and Alan Guild double to plate Han and Graf.
For Wesleyan, Ryan Earle doubled in a run in the fifth, and Ellis Schaefer singled home a fun in the sixth. Middlebury starting pitcher Colby Morris set the Cardinals down in order in the seventh, and Himstead recorded the final six outs to earn the save, allowing one hit and one walk.
Morris (2-3) gave up two runs on three hits, striking out seven and walking two. Ethan Rode (3-2) went the distance for Wesleyan, giving up three runs on seven hits while striking out five over eight innings.
On Thursday, Graf smacked two home runs as the Panthers picked up an 8-1 victory over visiting St. Michael’s (1-16). Five Panther pitchers teamed up on a five-hitter, and Grant Elgarten earned his first collegiate victory, striking out four and walked one in two innings of relief.
Graf’s first homer was a two-run shot in the first inning and plated Carroll, who singled.
St. Mike’s cut the lead to 2-1 in the third. Joe Robertson walked, stole second base, and scored on a Sean Winthrop single.
Lock hit a two-run single in the fifth, and added three more in the sixth on RBI singles by Goolsby and Hayden Smith and a wild pitch. Graf capped the scoring with a solo homer in the seventh.
Patrick Martin took the loss for St. Mike’s, going 4.1 innings and allowing four runs, three earned, on five hits. 

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