Middlebury Denied NESCAC Title by Tufts

Justin Han finished the day with three hits for the Panthers.
Justin Han finished the day with three hits for the Panthers.

The Middlebury baseball team saw its bid for the program's second NESCAC Championship come up short, as #16 Tufts defeated the Panthers twice in the double-elimination tournament held at Colby. The Jumbos won the opening game 11-2 and held off Middlebury 10-6 in the finale, earning the conference automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Middlebury caps its successful season at 22-16, as the team boasted the second-most wins in a season in school history and also set a mark for games played at 38.

The opening game of the day was scoreless early as the Panthers came up with a big double play to get out of a jam in the second. With the bases loaded and one out, Middlebury pitcher Spencer Shores got Will Shackelford to ground into a 1-2-3 inning-ending double play.

Tufts (30-8-1) came back with a big inning in the third, scoring four times. Nick Falkson brought home the initial run of the inning with a single to right field, while Ryan Day made it a 2-0 advantage with a double to right. A sacrifice fly by Casey Santos-Ocampo increased the margin to three and Day scored the final run of the frame, racing home on a wild pitch.

The Jumbos pushed five runs across in the seventh, extending their advantage to 9-0. Day had the key hit of the inning with a bases-loaded double into the corner in right field, driving in three runs. Tufts added two more runs in the ninth for an 11-0 lead.

The Panthers showed some spark in the bottom of the ninth, plating a pair of runs. Gray Goolsby drove in the first run with a single just inside the bag at third to score Justin Han, while Ryan Rizzo brought home Alan Guild on a fielder's choice for the 11-2 final.

Shores (4-1) took his first collegiate loss, giving up four runs on three hits and six walks in 2.2 innings. Robert Erickson tossed four innings of relief, giving up five runs (one earned) on two hits. Guild had a solid game at the plate for the Panthers, going 2-3 with a double and a walk.

For Tufts, Elias Varinos (2-0) pitched into the ninth inning for the victory, allowing only one earned run on six hits with seven strikeouts. Day had a productive game batting, finishing 3-6 with two doubles and five RBI.

In the second and deciding game, the Panthers jumped out to an early one-run lead in the top of the first. Han hit a two-out double to right field and moved up a base on the throw. He trotted home one batter later on a two-base hit to right center by Graf.

Harry Brown put the Jumbos in front 2-1 in the bottom of the bottom of the third, hitting a triple into the gap in right to score Christian Zazzali and Harrison Frickman. He scored two batters later on a ground out by Tommy O'Hara for a 3-1 edge.

Andrew Hennings got one of those runs right back for the Panthers in their next at bat, lacing a 1-2 pitch over the fence in left field for his first collegiate home run. It was also the only home run in the tournament.

Middlebury scored again in the fifth, knotting the contest at 3-3. Rizzo singled to center and the ball was misplayed, allowing Guild to score from second base.

Tufts took the lead for good in the fifth with three runs. Oscar Kutch and O'Hara each plated runs with singles, while Stephan White was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded for a 6-3 lead.

O'Hara pushed the advantage to 9-3 in the sixth with a two-run double and Falkson drove in another run with a single.

The Panthers continued to battle, getting three runs back in the seventh. Han brought home Kevin Woodring with a single and Graf plated two more with a base hit to left, bringing in Brooks Carroll and Rizzo to cut the deficit to 9-6.

Tufts closed out the scoring in the last of the eighth on a double to left field by O'Hara, scoring Kutch, making it a 10-6 game.

Middlebury's Colby Morris (6-4), who returned to the mound after pitching a complete-game win on Friday, got the starting nod and suffered the loss, going 4.1 innings. He yielded five runs (four earned) on two hits and struck out five. Graf and Woodring both went 2-4, while Han also had two base hits.

Ian Kinney (4-0), one of five relievers used by the Jumbos, earned the win a scoreless two-thirds of an inning pitched. Speros Varinos didn't allow a run in the final 2.1 innings for his first save of the spring. O'Hara finished 3-5 at the plate and drove in five runs.