Panther baseball takes NESCAC title with late rally
HARTFORD, Conn. — The Middlebury baseball team on Sunday claimed the NESCAC crown and an NCAA Division III tournament bid by scoring seven runs in the top of the ninth inning to erase an 8-5 deficit and defeat Hamilton, 12-8.
Hamilton (21-17) had forced a winner-take-all game in the double-elimination tournament by thumping the Panthers, 17-3, in the first of two Sunday games between the teams.
On Monday, the 29-12 Panthers, who won the program’s second NESCAC title and first since 2006, learned they’ll head to a four-team, double-elimination NCAA regional hosted by Rochester University that will run from May 20 to 22.
The Panthers will open vs. host Rochester (30-14) on Friday, May 20, at 2:30 p.m. Their schedule from there will depend on results. The other teams at the regional are Eastern Connecticut (39-3) and Swarthmore (22-17), who will also meet on Saturday. Middlebury has not played any of these teams — nor any other NCAA qualifier — this spring.
Before the Panthers’ decisive rally in the NESCAC final, they took a 5-1 lead through the top of the fifth. They scored one in the first when Chris Borter beat out an infield hit with the bases loaded, and made it 2-1 in the second when John Collins launched a homer.
In the fourth, Lucas Flemming doubled and scored on a Zip Malley fielder’s choice, and Collins was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to make it 4-1. In the fifth, three two-out singles by the bottom of the order made it 5-1, with Malley picking up the RBI.
Hamilton reached starter Sawyer Duarte for earned runs in the fifth, when Phil Bernstein drilled a two-run homer. And in the sixth, the Continentals knocked out Duarte and roughed up a reliever in a five-run, six-hit inning that made it 8-5.
In the top of the ninth, Collins singled, and Stolper was hit by a pitch. Collins scored on a Borter sac fly, and Flemming tripled Stolper home. Ashley blooped a single to center, scoring Flemming with the tying run, and Root grounded a single to center to drive in the go-ahead run.
Ritch capped the inning with a three-run homer. The three RBIs gave Ritch 50 this spring, breaking the program’s single-season mark of 49.
George Goldstein, who came on to pitch in the eighth inning, earned the win with 1.1 innings of scoreless work.
Earlier that day, Hamilton starter Peter Jones earned the victory, allowing just one run on five hits in six innings while the Continentals teed off on Middlebury’s starter Alex Rosario and relievers in their 17-3 win.
For Middlebury, Stolper doubled, singled and scored a run; Borter homered; and Nathan Samii doubled, tripled and scored. Ritch stole a base, giving him 40 for the season and 58 for his career, making him the program’s career stolen base leader.
On Friday, the Panthers opened by defeating Amherst, 14-8, scoring 13 runs in the first four innings. The Mammoths finished at 16-18-2 after losing in the next round.
After scratching out a first-inning run, Middlebury scored five runs in the second to take a 6-2 lead. Ashley’s three-run homer keyed the rally, Root drilled an RBI triple, and Ritch hit his second sacrifice fly of the game.
Amherst closed to within 6-5, but the Panthers answered with four runs in the bottom of the third with RBI hits from Ashley, Collins and Malley. In the fourth, Malley singled in two runs, and Ritch doubled in a run to make it 13-5, and the Panthers were on their way.
Root finished with four hits, and Malley poked three and scored four runs. The Panthers stole six bases, establishing a program single-season record.
Alex Price tossed the first four innings, allowing five runs (two earned) on seven hits with five strikeouts. Freddy Mosier earned the win, tossing three scoreless relief innings.
On Saturday, the Panthers outslugged Colby, 16-14, with each team scoring five runs in the ninth. Colby then lost to Hamilton, finishing 24-13.
The Panthers made it 5-1 with a four-run, two-out rally in the top of the third. Ritch homered, Samii’s infield single plated Collins, and Ashley singled home a pair.
Middlebury added three runs in the fourth to make it 8-2. Root singled home a pair and later scored on a wild pitch.
Colby scored twice in each of the fourth and fifth innings, runs sandwiched around a Chris Borter solo homer, and it was 9-6 after five.
Root scored on a wild pitch in the sixth and Ritch singled in a run in the eighth to make it 11-6, but Colby scored three in the eighth to close to 11-9.
In the ninth, Borter started Middlebury’s five-run rally with a two-run single, Root singled home another run, and Ritch doubled home a pair.
Colby rallied behind a two-run double by Jackson Roloff. Matthew Panker followed with a two-run triple to close the gap to 16-13. After a single by Patrick McConnell made it 16-14, Andrew Gatland got the final out for his first save of the spring. Ritch (4-0) got the win, allowing five earned runs over five innings.
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