On a sunny day at Forbes Field, George Goldstein ’22 struck out the last batter of the game to secure Middlebury’s 6–2 win over Castleton University (6–15–1). Although technically just a non-conference win, for Head Coach Mike Leonard, this game marked something much bigger: his 200th win as Middlebury baseball’s head coach.
Leonard was the head baseball coach at Bates College for six years before Middlebury hired him in 2016. Under Leonard’s leadership, Middlebury has twice played in the NESCAC championship game and has tied the single-season program record of 26 wins. When reflecting on his 200th win, Leonard attributed much of his success to his players.
“Reflecting, I think about how long I have been doing this and how grateful I am for all the awesome players I have coached,” Leonard told The Campus.
This season, Leonard has continued his strong leadership and has a chance to add to his impressive coaching resume. Middlebury has a winning percentage of .683, its highest mark since 2006 when the program had a winning percentage of .711. As a result, Middlebury sits in first place in the NESCAC West Division.
A key part of Middlebury’s impressive record has been their stellar play against NESCAC rivals. The Panthers (15–7) are 4–1 in conference play and just completed a three-game series sweep of Williams College (7–13) this past weekend.
“Every NESCAC opponent is really talented, and it’s always a challenging game against them,” Leonard said. “It forces you to look in the mirror and play your best.”
The baseball team’s success is also derived from its dominance while playing at home — the team is 8–0 on Forbes Field this season.
“There are a ton of games we travel to where our players grind it out and are certainly ready for any roadtrip, but it is certainly nice to play at home in front of friends and family,” Leonard said. “The schedule is nicer when you can sleep-in, and pre-game batting practice feels more like a routine because it’s at a place you’re used to, so we certainly like being at home and want to play here as much as possible.”
Offensively, Middlebury has been a juggernaut, frequently scoring double-digit runs. Among players with at least 45 at-bats this year, the Panthers feature six players with an on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) of at least 1.000. OPS is a frequently used statistic in baseball that measures total offensive output by combining the rate at which a player gets on base with how effectively a player hits for average and power. To put this in perspective, in the Major Leagues, a player with an OPS of at least 1.000 would be a strong candidate to win the Most Valuable Player award.
On the mound, Alex Price ’23 and Alex Rosario ’23 have led a very solid rotation. Price, through six games started, is 2–2 with a respectable 4.36 earned run average (ERA); he also leads the team with 33 innings pitched. Rosario, also through six games started, leads the team in wins with an impressive record of 5–1 and has a 4.60 ERA through 29.1 innings pitched.
In the bullpen, Goldstein has been a dominant force. In 16.1 innings, he has struck out an impressive 28 batters and with a 1.10 ERA.
However, the team’s biggest contributor has been two-way star Alec Ritch ’23. Offensively, Ritch leads the team in most statistical categories –– he has an OPS of 1.303, a batting average of .414 and four home runs. Ritch has also shown off his speed on the basepaths, recording 20 steals — twice as many as the next highest total on the team — this season while only being caught three times. Ritch has also been a formidable pitcher: He has a 4.85 ERA in 26 innings pitched.
Headed into the tail end of the season, the Panthers know they have to stay focused. Postseason begins in early May.
“I have been really impressed with the team’s ability to use each game as information and a learning opportunity moving forward,” Leonard said. “[I’m] really excited about what we can do the rest of the way.”
The Panthers are set to play a three-game series against Amherst College (8–14–1) this weekend at Forbes Field.