Panther softball sweeps Bowdoin on new field

PANTHER SOPHOMORE SECOND baseman Marina Lyon fires to first hoping for a double play on Sunday during the second game of the Middlebury College softball team’s doubleheader sweep of visiting Bowdoin. Independent photo/Steve James

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury College softball team so far seems to be enjoying its new home field.

With Sunday’s 5-2, 7-0 doubleheader sweep of NESCAC rival Bowdoin, the Panthers are now 5-1 (4-0 in league play) on their newly installed field-turf surface off South Street.

As well as the weather-proof field, the facility also includes bullpens and batting cages with protective netting, seating behind home plate, and an enclosed press box — the same as the baseball program’s new facility next door.

Coach Kelly Bevere said the team, as it did on Sunday, has been getting timely hitting, clutch pitching, solid defense, and contributions from its veterans and younger players. Meanwhile the Panthers’ overall quickness had served them well defensively on the fast surface.

“We’ve got a pretty good mix of speed and young and old, so it’s been a pretty good couple of weeks here for us,” Bevere said.

MIDDLEBURY SENIOR CATCHER Megan Fox drills an RBI double during the second game of the Panther softball team’s doubleheader sweep of visiting Bowdoin on Sunday.
Independent photo/Steve James

In Sunday’s opener the Polar Bears jumped on senior starter Jewel Ashbrook for a pair of runs. Anika Ewert led off with an infield hit, stole a base and scored on JK Bradley’s single, and with two outs Chloe Garcia doubled Bradley home.

With two outs in the Bowdoin third, two batters singled, and Bevere called for sophomore Samantha Hausman to take over in the circle. She induced a groundout to end the threat, and tossed 4.1 innings of scoreless ball to earn the win, allowing two hits, striking out three and walking none.

Middlebury tied the game with two runs in the bottom of the third. Junior Nina Schroeder singled to lead off, and senior shortstop Cece Ziegler’s sacrifice bunt moved her to second. Sophomore Kristyn Carroll singled, with Schroeder holding at third. Sophomore Caitlin Viola’s RBI grounder and a double by sophomore McKenna Long plated the tying runs.

The Panthers scored three more in the fifth. Schroeder again sparked the rally, this time with a double off losing pitcher Anna Halliday, and freshman Skylar Wong pinch-ran. Ziegler singled, with Wong reaching third, and Ziegler then stole second. Carroll walked to load the bases, and Viola singled home two runs. Polar Bear reliever Ellie Sullivan then walked McKenna Lont and senior catcher Megan Fox to force in the third run. 

No rally was necessary in the nightcap, as Lont tossed a four-hit shutout, walking three and striking out three. Lont occasionally had to work out of jams, but made pitches when she had to, while the Tigers played errorless defense and made a couple of sparkling plays behind her. In particular freshman Kelley Dever in right field made a nice running catch, and Ziegler at shortstop made handling a tough hop look easy. 

PANTHER SOPHOMORE PITCHER McKenna Lott fires a pitch during the second game of the Middlebury’s softball Sunday doubleheader sweep of visiting Bowdoin. Lott tossed a four-hit shutout for the pitching win.
Independent photo/Steve James

The Panthers made only one error on the day; it was in the first game and didn’t figure in the scoring. 

“We’ve been pretty sharp defensively this year. It’s been a big difference between this year and last year,” Bevere said. 

Two of Lont’s three walks came with two out in the first inning, but Lont fanned the next batter to snuff the threat. Middlebury then took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the inning on Carroll’s leadoff hit, a double Fox scorched into the left-center gap, and a  passed ball and throwing error that allowed Fox to come around to score. 

The Panthers stretched their lead to 4-0 in the second inning. Losing pitcher Maddie Current, who went the distance, walked Wong and Ziegler. With two out, Schroeder’s opposite-field hit landed in front of and spun away from the Bowdoin left fielder, who had a tough day, and it went for a two-run double. 

Middlebury made it 6-0 off Current in the fourth. Carroll legged out an infield hit and stole second, and scored when Viola doubled to left. Lont then blooped a single down the right-field line to score Viola. 

The Panthers made it 7-0 in the sixth when freshman Olivia Scholes singled and scored on what was ruled an opposite-field triple by Wong after discussion in the press box over whether the ball should have been caught. Regardless, the point was moot with Long tossing a shutout and the Panthers cruising. 

PANTHER FRESHMAN RIGHTFIELDER Kelly Dever makes a running catch near the foul line during the second game of the Middlebury College softball team’s Sunday doubleheader sweep of visiting Bowdoin.
Independent photo/Steve James

One statistical quirk in the second game pleased Bevere: All seven of the Panthers’ runs were scored with two outs, an indicator of timely hitting. 

“We just talked about it,” she said after the game. “That’s a pretty important thing for us.”

Overall, Bevere said she’s “feeling pretty good” about her team and its chances, but is mindful that typically stronger NESCAC teams such as Tufts and Williams are lying in wait. 

“We haven’t faced the meat of the NESCAC,” Bevere said. “The teams we’ve faced, it hasn’t been perfect, but we’ve done what we needed to do. We’ve gotten timely pitching when we needed to get timely pitching. If we continue on that path and continue to score with two outs, we’re going to be in a good spot.”

Bevere had nothing but praise for the program’s new facility, which she calls “really amazing,” and not just because of true hops and fewer weather postponements. 

MIDDLEBURY SENIOR SHORTSTOP Cece Ziegler snags the ball, but loses her cap, in the stiff breeze on Sunday, when the host Panther softball team swept a doubleheader from visiting Bowdoin.
Independent photo/Steve James

She said it means the team’s athletes no longer have to share time in the spring in indoor facilities, or set up bases on a turf soccer field while waiting for their field to dry off after snow or rain. The field’s earlier and more predictable availability is not just about sports, she said, but also allowing the athletes to better focus on their studies. 

“For them academically it’s life-changing. They’re able to practice at 4:30 instead of six o’clock. They’re able to go to dinner at 7:30 instead of 8:30,” Bevere said. “They’re able to get more time in the academic world.”

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