Baseball hits rough stretch to dim playoff hopes

Starter Kyle Crawford defeated the Muhlenberg Mules on Tuesday. (Julia Carleton/The Phoenix)

With little more than of half of its 18 conference games remaining on the schedule, the Swarthmore baseball team (16-10, 2-6 CC) suddenly finds its postseason chances in jeopardy due to an unfortunate mid-season slump.

The Garnet, which dropped a game to Washington College last Thursday and was swept in a weekend doubleheader by Johns Hopkins, has now lost five straight and six of its last eight games, all in conference play.

On April 5, the homestanding Garnet lost to Washington by a score of 12-10 after a five-run rally in the final inning fell short.

After a scoreless first, the Shoremen jumped out to a commanding 6-0 lead, scoring four runs in the second and two more in the third.

The Garnet, meanwhile, struggled on offense in the beginning of the game, collecting no hits and reaching base only twice off walks during the first three innings. In the fourth, the Garnet finally got on the scoreboard after a two-out double from centerfielder Roy McTear ’13 scored first baseman Spencer Ross ’12 and right fielder Tim Kwilos ’13.

After a scoreless fifth and a two-run outing in the top of the sixth by the Shoremen, the Garnet trailed 8-2 entering into the bottom of the frame.

Down but not out, the team showed life as it fought its way back into the game behind a three-run, two-out homer from third baseman Mike Cameron ’12 that cleared the right field wall and drove in Ross and pinch runner Gregory Cox ’15.

The Shoremen, however, answered with more offense of its own, scoring two runs off two hits in the seventh. The Garnet had no answer in either the seventh or the eight innings as the offense faltered again, reaching base only once in that span.

In the ninth and final inning, Washington piled on two more runs to widen the deficit to a seemingly insurmountable 12-5. In baseball, however, no lead is truly safe, especially against an offense with as much potential as the Garnet’s.

An error and two walks to begin the bottom of the ninth loaded the bases for Kwilos, who leads the team with .a 436 batting average, and his single drove in Zach Schmidt ’12 for a run. Two wild pitches advanced Kwilos and left fielder Nicko Burnett ’14 and scored shortstop Danny McMahon ’15 from third. A one-out double by Ross to left center field scored two more runs and brought the Garnet within three of the Shoremen.

A walk by McTear and a groundout advanced two runners into scoring position for the Garnet, which was down to the final out of the contest.

Consecutive walks brought in Ross and loaded the bases with the tying run on second with McMahon, who is third on the team with 31 total hits, at the plate for the second time in the inning.

The comeback fell just short, however, as he grounded out to end the game at 10-12, leaving three runners on base.

On Saturday, the Garnet traveled to Baltimore, MD. for a doubleheader against defending conference champion Johns Hopkins, whom they swept last year at home. This year, however, the roles were reversed as Hopkins won both games by scores of 6-3 and 13-3.

In the first game of the twin bill, things got off to a rocky start after the Blue Jays scored two runs in the first. Despite this early hole, the Garnet stayed in the game thanks to strong pitching from Zach Weiner ’12, who settled in and held Hopkins scoreless for four innings. In the sixth, the Jays scored off an unearned run to increase their lead to 3-0

Pinch-runner Zach Schmidt slides into third base.
(Julia Carleton/The Phoenix)

Offense was again an issue for the Garnet, as the team was only able to amass three hits, all singles, in the first six innings.

In the seventh, singles from Kwilos, third baseman Mike Waterhouse ’12, and McTear brought in a run, but the inning ended with two left on base. The eighth frame saw the Garnet even the score after an RBI sac fly from Burnett scored Ross and a single by Kwilos brought in McMahon.

Entering the bottom of the eighth, it appeared that the game was poised to be competitive and had the possibility of going into extra innings, but an untimely defense lapse dashed Swarthmore’s hopes.

With two outs and a man on third for Hopkins, the team committed a costly fielding error that scored a runner and prolonged the inning. The Jays took advantage of this opportunity, bringing in two more runs behind three hits to end the inning 6-3.

In the ninth, the Garnet reached base once off a walk, but were unable to mount a comeback and lost its fourth game in a row.

The woes continued into the second game of the doubleheader, as Hopkins thoroughly dominated the Garnet, winning 13-3 after a seven-run outburst in the fifth. No Swarthmore player collected more than one hit and the team had only six total in the game.

“There isn’t really one specific thing that has caused this slump; I think it’s the combination of a lot of different things,” Montalbano said.

“There really isn’t some secret formula to get us back on track either, we just have to keep moving forward, keep practicing and most importantly we need to stay positive.

With the loss, the Garnet extended its losing streak to five and found itself tied with Muhlenberg for last place in the conference.

With ten games remaining against Centennial competition, the team, which had its sights set on a conference championship, is now in jeopardy of missing the postseason entirely.

On Tuesday, the Garnet took a step in the right direction, beating conference foe Muhlenberg 8-6 at home. Kwilos had a two-run homer in the first inning and starting pitcher Kyle Crawford ‘12 had a strong showing, striking out four and allowing only two earned runs in eight innings.

“The biggest difference in our win today was our execution on offense,” said Benjamin ‘Scoop’ Ruxin ‘15, who went 2-3 in the game with two runs and one RBI. “We converted on every chance we had and kept the pressure on them the entire game.”

With the postponement of Wednesday’s non-conference home game against Desales, the Garnet has a three-day break before traveling to Allentown, PA. on Apr. 13 to complete its series against Muhlenberg. The team will look to complete its first sweep of a conference opponent all season.

“I expect them to come out and play like a different team,” Crawford said. “They are going to be more aggressive, have better pitching and want to beat us. I think we just have to keep playing each game one inning at a time.”

The opening pitch is scheduled for 3:30 PM.

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