Baseball: After heartbreaking season, Tigers look to reclaim division title
The Tigers have a fresh start before them, but throughout the offseason, they have borne in mind the memory of the disappointing end to their 2012 campaign. Coming into its final four-game stretch of the season against Cornell, the squad was three games behind the Big Red for the division lead. After winning the first three games of the series to share the division lead, Princeton fell in the final game and thus lost its chance for two consecutive Ivy League titles and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Led by seven seniors, almost all of whom have played large roles in past seasons, the Tigers hope to write a story that has a different ending this year.
“Last year, we probably had the most talented lineup in the Ivy League, but we came up short when it mattered most,” senior outfielder Steve Harrington said. Over the next few weeks, Harrington will transition to the role of baseball captain from captaining Princeton’s squash team. “We don’t want the Ivy League title slipping out of our hands again.”
Princeton will begin the season in the absence of key offensive and defensive leaders from last year, namely catcher Sam Mulroy and pitcher Matt Bowman, a junior last year — both were major contributors who were selected in the 2012 MLB draft. But with a majority of the team returning from last year, Princeton’s veterans are more than confident in the team’s potential for the spring.
“We’ve been working really hard indoors this winter,” senior pitcher Zak Hermans said. “This is a great team that has good experience, especially on the pitching staff. We are certainly capable of winning an Ivy League title as long as we’re competing and playing to the best of our abilities.”
Along with fellow senior Kevin Link, Hermans will be a crucial part of the Tigers’ rotation. The Texas native led the Tigers and was fourth in the Ivy League with a 3.00 ERA last year and earned the league’s Pitcher of the Year honor. He was also second in the league in strikeouts, sitting down 60 batters in 63 innings of work.
“We have a lot of returning guys who’ve played a lot of innings over the last few years,” Harrington said. “Offensively, we have a lot of guys returning who provide a depth of speed and power to our team. Defensively, a number of experienced pitchers will be back, like Hermans, [junior pitcher Mike] Ford and Link.”
Speed will be important to the Tigers’ success. Junior Alec Keller, a speedy and versatile first team All-Ivy utility player and, often, leadoff hitter, had the second-highest batting average on the team last year, hitting .346. Similarly, Princeton will look for another solid year out of senior outfielder Johnny Mishu, who has stolen 14 bases over his last two seasons without being picked off once.
The entrance of a talented freshman class will also help the Tigers round out their roster, and the rookies will not be watching from the dugout this spring.
“We’re really excited about all the young guys who will be able to contribute this season,” Mishu said. “[Freshman infielders] Billy Arendt and Danny Hoy are both looking really impressive and show promise to work their way into starting roles. Cameron Mingo and Luke Strieber are both promising young pitchers who should also see playing time if they keep it up.”
“I think it’s really important for the younger guys to not underestimate themselves,” Hermans said. “Last year, Cornell won the Ivy League title with a roster comprised of some very talented freshmen. I want our freshmen to see their potential throughout the season and know that they are equally important in contributing to our success this season.”
The team’s leaders have experienced a lot of heartbreak over the last two seasons, falling short of a bid to the NCAA tournament in 2012 and losing the first game of the tournament in 2011. But this year, the Tigers refuse to let the past limit their ambitions.
“We have put in the work this season to win the Ivy League title,” Harrington said. “But given our lineup, I think we can beat any team in the country. All we can hope for is to work to get to the NCAA regionals and see what we can do.”
“Obviously, it’s the end of the line if we can’t get out of the Ivy League,” Mishu said. “If we play our best baseball, though, there isn’t a single team in the conference that will be able to touch us. We believe that we can take on the big dogs, and through hard work and focus, we’re hoping to make some noise in the NCAA tournament.”
The Tigers kick off their spring training schedule with a 4 p.m. game on March 1 in College Park against the University of Maryland.
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