AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College baseball team earned a 5-3 win over Middlebury College Friday afternoon at Memorial Field to open a pivotal three-game NESCAC West series. The Lord Jeffs (12-9/5-3) and Panthers (9-12/1-5) will play two on Saturday, with the first game set to begin at noon.
Amherst scored two runs in the seventh inning to break a 1-1 tie and added another two in the eighth, while Middlebury scored once in the eighth and once in the ninth but had its comeback attempt fall short. Junior Teddy Blank (Waban, MA) earned the win by pitching 2.2 innings of relief to improve to 2-1, while starting pitcher Nick Angstman (Williston, VT) took the loss to drop to 1-3.
Amherst starting pitcher Ryan Healy (Westport, CT) walked the leadoff hitter in each of the first two innings but escaped unharmed each time thanks to some good defense by the Lord Jeffs. The hosts responded with the game's first run in the bottom half of the second when sophomore shortstop Jose Espinosa (Ridgefield, CT) sent a single through the left side of the infield to drive in classmate Alex Coburn (Brookline, MA), who had reached on an error.
Middlebury threatened in the top of the third when a Peter Bourdon (Simsbury, CT) double was followed by a Tim Dillon (Dracut, MA) walk. Both runners advanced on a Danny Seymour (Weston, CT) groundout to set up a second-and-third situation with two outs, but more solid defense got Healy out of the jam. Sophomore Donald McKillop (Poway, CA) ripped a liner to right field and seemed to have two RBIs coming his way, but first-year Kevin Heller (Brooklyn, MA) made a stellar diving catch to his right to keep the Panthers off the scoreboard.
The visitors had runners at the corners in the fifth, but a failed sacrifice bunt came back to haunt them as Healy once again pitched out of a jam by getting the inning's final batter to ground out to Espinosa. Middlebury broke through in the sixth when McKillop finally caught a break and led off with a double to right field. Senior captain Mark Shimrock (Lansdale, PA) followed with a double of his own to tie things up at 1-1, but Healy regained his composure and got the next three batters to fly out.
The Jeffs regained the lead in the seventh when first-year Thomas Wheeler (Minnetonka, MN) led off with a single to left field and was moved over to second base by a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt by senior captain Angus Schaller (Leucadia, CA). First-year pinch runner John Wagner (Evanston, IL) advanced to third on a groundout and scored on a passed ball to hand Amherst a 2-1 lead.
Sophomore Brian Merrigan (Holbrook, MA) kept things going when he hustled out of the box and got two bases on a fielding error by the Panthers, as the speedy leadoff hitter dove head first into second base to put another runner in scoring position. Junior Will Lawton (Newton, MA) rewarded Merrigan's hustle by lacing an RBI-double to left center that gave Amherst a 3-1 advantage.
Middlebury came right back with a run in the eighth when Shimrock led off with a walk and junior Erich Enns (Lansdale, PA) followed with a single to right. Both runners advanced on a passed ball and senior Andrew Matson (Coventry, RI) capitalized by sending a deep fly ball to center field to bring home the Panthers' second run on a sacrifice fly.
Heller handed the momentum right back to Amherst by leading off the bottom of the eighth with a triple that made its way down the line to the fence in right field. In the ensuring at-bat senior Brendan Powers (Walpole, MA) ripped a single to right for his 10th RBI of the season, giving the Jeffs a 4-1 lead. Powers moved to second on a single by first-year Mike Samela (Westport, CT) and scored when Dylan Joyce (South Orange, NJ) reached on an error.
Blank retired the first two batters of the ninth inning in quick fashion, but Seymour started a rally when he reached on an error. An RBI-single by McKillop cut Middlebury's deficit to two, but that's as close as the visitors would get. Sophomore Pat Harris (Rochester, NY) retired the lone batter he faced to earn the save, as he got Enns to pop up to Lawton to end the game.
Healy allowed one earned run on six hits and three walks in 6.0 innings, while Blank surrendered two unearned runs on three hits and three walks. Middlebury hitters did not have a single strikeout to go with their six walks, leaving 11 men on base throughout the game. Angstman surrendered three unearned runs on six hits during 7.0 innings of a solid performance, striking out six and walking two.
Wheeler picked up two hits for the fourth consecutive game to increase his batting average to .447, while the deadly 3-4-5 combination of McKillop, Shimrock and Enns each had a pair of hits for Middlebury. Amherst improved its record against the Panthers to 20-5 this decade, as the Jeffs have gotten the best of their NESCAC West rival in 12 of the last 13 meetings at Memorial Field.
Since getting off to a 1-3 start in conference play, Amherst has rattled off four consecutive victories against NESCAC West opponents to climb into a tie for second place in the standings. Amherst and Wesleyan each stand at 5-3 (.625) in the West division, with Williams holding a slim lead at 4-2 (.667).