LEWISTON, Maine -- Erin Nicholas scored on a penalty stroke in the second quarter and it held up as the lone goal of the game, giving top-ranked Middlebury a 1-0 win over the No. 14 nationally ranked Bates field hockey team on Saturday.
Middlebury (10-0, 6-0) was given perhaps its sternest test of the season so far by Bates (5-3, 2-3 NESCAC). In their third one-goal victory of the season, the Panthers outshot the Bobcats by a season-low two-shot margin (13-11), and the Bobcats earned an 8-5 advantage in penalty corners.
After Middlebury opened the game with the first three shots, all off target, the Bobcats countered with four consecutive shots, three of them on goal. Middlebury goalie Grace Harlan stopped Bridget Thompson in the seventh minute, then turned away back-to-back point-blank shots by Ally Leahy in the 13th minute.
In the fifth minute of the second quarter, Bates goalie Ellie Bauer stuffed a shot by Kelly Coyle, but the Panthers were awarded a penalty stroke after Bauer fell on the ball in the aftermath. Nicholas knocked a rising ball inside the left post to give Middlebury the lead it never relinquished.
Bates had its closest call midway through the third quarter. Grace Fitzgerald's rocket from 30 yards away was tipped inside the circle on its way toward the back of the cage. The Bates side celebrated, thinking Thompson was the tipper, which would have meant a game-tying goal, but officials ruled that a Panther got her stick on the ball.
Harlan finished the game with four saves, her second-most this season, in earning her sixth shutout. Bauer made two saves in the first half and Grace Biddle made two more saves in the second half for Bates.
Bates, whose three losses are all against top-eight nationally ranked conference rivals, will host Trinity College Sunday at noon.