Middlebury clinched a spot in the upcoming conference tournament, defeating Wesleyan 7-4 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep of the NESCAC West series. The Panthers, winners of seven-straight games, earned a spot in the NESCAC Tournament for the first time since 2011. The conference tournament is slated for May 12-14 at Colby. Middlebury (13-10, 8-4) hosts Plymouth State on Wednesday for a mid-week doubleheader starting at 2:00 p.m., while the Cardinals (16-11, 4-4) are home Tuesday against Wheaton at 4:00 p.m.
Wesleyan grabbed an early 1-0 lead with a run in the top of the first without getting a hit. The Cardinals benefitted from an infield error and three walks, including one with the bases loaded by Andrew Keith.
The hosts manufactured a run in the third as Ryan Rizzo walked and stole second, moving into scoring position. Rizzo raced home on a single to center by Andrew Hennings, tying the contest at 1-1. Jason Lock put Middlebury in front one batter later, lacing a double to the gap in right center for a 2-1 lead.
The Panthers came right back with three runs in the fourth, extending the advantage to 5-1. Brooks Carroll pushed a bunt past the pitcher on a safety squeeze to score Alan Guild, while Hennings brought home two more runs with a double down the left-field line to score Gray Goolsby and Carroll.
In the top of the eighth, the Cardinals made it 5-2 on a base hit by Danny Rose, while Will O'Sullivan hit a bad-hop double down the line in left for two more runs. Middlebury used a smart defensive play to keep the score at 5-4, ending the inning with a double play. Matt Jeye grounded out to the pitcher, but Lock made a heads-up play after recording the out at first by throwing behind the runner at second. Carroll quickly relayed the throw home to catcher Phil Bernstein, who applied the tag to Rose as he tried to score.
The Panthers tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom half of the inning, as Rizzo dropped a single into right field for a run and Lock delivered a run-scoring base hit to left.
Conor Himstead retired the visitors in order in the ninth inning for his conference-leading fifth save.
Colin Waters (2-1) earned the win for the Panthers, allowing only an unearned run on three hits with four strikeouts. Robert Erickson threw two innings of relief before Himstead tossed the final 1.2 innings. Nick Miceli (2-2) got the start for Wesleyan and threw three innings, while Ryan Earle, one of three Cardinal relievers used, gave up two runs (one earned) in 4.1 innings of relief.
Hennings had a big game at the plate for the Panthers, going 4-5 with three RBI and a run scored. Guild and Carroll each finished the day 2-3, while Lock also had two hits with a pair of runs batted in. Ellis Schaefer recorded half of Wesleyan's six hits, finishing the day 3-4 with a run scored.