LEWISTON — Bates College went into Saturday’s must-win doubleheader against Bowdoin having been shut out once all season. With the first NESCAC playoff berth in school history on the line, it seemed unlikely that the Bobcats’ bats would go silent again.
Joe Pace made the unthinkable a cold, harsh reality on a summer-like Saturday.
Pace scattered five hits and four walks in a seven-inning complete game shutout in Game 1 as Bowdoin simultaneously spoiled Bates’ post-season aspirations and secured its own NESCAC tournament bid with a 2-0 win at Leahey Field.
“I love games like that, and we all do. We all wanted a big game like that,” said Pace, a senior right-hander. “A couple of weeks ago, we were a little down in the dumps after losing two to Colby. I’m just really proud of everybody for coming out and playing such a big game.”
Bates (23-10) won Game 2, 7-2.
Bowdoin (23-12) won the first game of the three-game weekend series, 8-4, in Brunswick. Bates remained alive for a spot in the four-team conference tournament by virtue of Tufts’ win over Trinity on Friday, but the Bobcats needed a Saturday sweep to leap frog the Polar Bears in the final playoff spot.
The Bobcats had their opportunities against Pace, but they stranded seven runners, four in scoring position, and hit into two big double plays.
“We needed a couple of hits early on, plus they made a couple of double plays,” Bates coach Edwin Thompson said. “They played great defense, and their guy kept us off-balance.”
The frustration began to mount early for Bates. Chris Burke laced a one-out double in the first, but was stranded at third. The Bobcats got two on with two outs in the second, but Pat Murphy just missed beating out a grounder to third. In the third, Burke drew a one-out walk, then Pace, who was at his best against the big boppers in the middle of Bates’ lineup, got Noah Burke to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
Lynd, who broke Bates’ school record for home runs (11) and extra base hits (23) this year, went 1-for-3 with an infield single. Cleanup hitter Gordy Webb, who was the NESCAC player of the week last week after hitting .414 with 12 RBIs, went 0-for-3, and No. 5 hitter Jake Simon went 0-for-2 with a walk and two of Pace’s five strikeouts.
“I just knew I needed to stay away from their bats. They like to pull the ball,” Pace said. “All we were trying to do was keep them guessing. I fell behind a couple of guys, but in the end I was able to keep it low, and the fielders were just ridiculous.”
“His change-up was pretty good today,” Lynd said. “He located his fastball. His curveball was pretty much just a ‘show me’ pitch, but his change-up got guys out instead.”
Bates sophomore starter Karl Alexander was even more impressive through the first three innings, needing just 10 pitches to get through each frame. He found his first trouble spot in the fourth after giving up a two-out double to Brett Gorman and hitting Joe Comizio with a pitch, but he struck out Kevin Zikaris on three pitches to end the threat.
The Polar Bears finally broke through in the fifth. Dan Findlay led off with a double, then narrowly avoided being doubled-up when Ben Higgins popped a bunt attempt back to Alexander (seven innings, eight hits, six Ks, no walks, one hit batter). After Adam Marquit grounded out to second to move Findlay to third, Reid Auger laced a two-out ground rule double to send him home with what proved to be the winning run.
Bowdoin added insurance in the sixth on an RBI single by Comizio.
Pace negotiated his only true 1-2-3 inning in the fifth, then found himself in trouble again in the sixth when Lynd dove head-first into first base for a leadoff infield hit and Simon, with one out, walked. Pace induced a 4-6-3 double play grounder from Noah Burke to get out of the jam.
“That was all heart and guts,” Bowdoin coach Mike Connolly said. “He really pitched his guts out. He pitched (Friday). He came out (Saturday) and didn’t really have his best stuff, but he just wouldn’t give in. “He kept making pitches when he had to.”
Freshman Kevin McGregor drew a leadoff walk to get the tying run to the plate in the seventh, but Pace stranded him at first by getting the next three batters on a strikeout, fly out and ground out.
The Bobcats took out some of their frustration in the second game. Junior Ryan Heide threw 8 1/3 strong innings (eight hits, 1 ER, 6 Ks, 1 BB) to pick up his eighth win, a new Bates single-season record. Murphy and Beaton led the offense with three hits apiece.
Bowdoin earned its fourth trip to the NESCAC playoffs and its first since 2007 with the win. For Bates, which has three non-conference games remaining and has already broken the school record for wins, there is plenty of silver lining.
“In-conference, we doubled our wins (six). We beat every team in the NESCAC. We beat some teams for the first time in a long period of time,” Thompson said. “I just told the guys that they’re right on the cusp of taking that next step to the playoffs.”
“I think doubling conference wins is definitely a step, no matter what,” said Lynd, a junior. “We’re disappointed, but at the same time we know the majority of our guys will be back next year.”