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The 2018 season has finally arrived for the baseball team, and with it, the chance to prove that 2017 is behind them and that they are ready to compete for an Ivy League title once again.

This weekend, Princeton will kick off their season with a trip to North Carolina to face the North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks. The projected Colonial Conference champion according to the conference’s coaches poll, the Seahawks will be a tough early season test for the Tigers. With at least 30 wins in 18 out of the past 19 seasons, UNC-Wilmington is a model example of the consistency that Princeton is looking to emulate in 2018.

Following a riveting campaign in 2016, which culminated in the Tigers winning the Ivy League Championship, the 2017 season proved to be one of disappointment. Princeton finished the season 12–28–1 overall and finished last in the Lou Gehrig Division with a 7–13 record in league play. Ranking last in the Ivy League in batting average (.247) and ERA (6.72), Princeton struggled to develop consistency throughout the season. Perhaps the biggest Achilles’ heel for the team last season, however, was their inability to come up clutch in the late innings. 

“There were times last season where we’d have a runner on in like the 5th or 6th inning, we wouldn’t be able to get him in and we’d just feel defeated — like we had missed our last chance to win the game,” said sophomore outfielder Chris Davis. “Trusting ourselves that we can get it done and having that relentlessness on offense will be big for us this season.”

Fortunately for the Tigers, their team has the talent to orchestrate a quick turnaround in the win-loss column. Their biggest weapon this season is an arsenal of pitchers who will look to lock down opposing hitters on a daily basis. Leading the pitching crew is senior pitcher Ben Gross, a New Jersey native who is also a top prospect for team USA. 

ESPN analyst Rece Davis was here earlier this month to cover a Tiger basketball game and had a chance to talk Princeton baseball with the ‘Prince.’

“In my mind [Gross] is as good as anyone in the country,” he said. Last year, Gross ranked just outside of the top ten in the Ivy League for pitchers, with an ERA of 4.20 in a little over 46 innings pitched. He is returning this year as the presumed ace for the Tigers. 

“With him on the mound we can beat anybody,” Davis noted. Behind Gross, the Tigers have an all-purpose pitcher in junior Ryan Smith, who led the league last season in appearances and relief innings. Smith will probably take a starting role, but he may make late inning appearances if the orange and black are in a tight game. 

Another strong starting pitcher to watch is sophomore Andrew Gnazzo, who got valuable work last season with 18.1 innings pitched, posting a batting against average of .307. Adding to those pitchers, of course, the Tigers will have their closer: sophomore James Proctor. Proctor served time as a starter last season, logging 46 innings of work and posting an impressive .297 batting against average.

On the fielding and hitting side of things, Princeton will look to their strong outfielder duo of sophomore Chris Davis and junior Jesper Horsted for both skilled fielding and power at the plate. 

“You won’t find two more athletic outfielders than Chris and Jesper this season,” said the elder Davis, speaking highly of the paid. Horsted will look to improve on his numbers at the plate; last season he averaged .281 for Princeton and scored 13 runs. 

The Tigers will also welcome a new member of the team who looks to add immediate power and impact: freshman infielder Jake Boone — drafted in the 38th round of the MLB draft last season by the Washington Nationals — will look to add firepower to the middle of the Tiger batting order. In his last season as a high school player, Boone logged a batting average of .353 and an on-base percentage of .427, being named the offensive player of the year in the Avocado All-West League of Southern California.

Despite the return of some impressive arms and an injection of power into the lineup, the road to reclaiming the Ivy League won’t be easy for the Tigers. The first roadblock involves navigating the new format of the Ivy League; the Lou Gehrig and Red Rolfe Divisions are officially dead, meaning all eight teams will now play each other in a three-game series throughout the season. 

“I think that a lot of guys are looking forward to the new way the Ivy League is structured,” explained Chris Davis. “That will add in a factor of competition against all those teams; you’re either going to win or lose those series . . it’s something our guys are really looking forward to.”

The team begins the season very much as it did the last, with a daunting non-conference schedule. Featuring all road games to start the year, the Tigers will travel down the east coast as they take on UNCW, perennial SEC powerhouse South Carolina, Georgetown, Richmond, and Old Dominion. Then, the Tigers mix in local non-conference games against Villanova, Seton Hall, Rutgers and Monmouth with their traditional Ivy League gauntlet. 

The team specifically highlighted two series in the Ivy League as three game slates that could make or break the year. The first comes in late April when the team travels to the Big Apple to take on Columbia; the Lions have been the kryptonite for the Tigers the last few years as the orange and black have only won four games against the Lions in their last 24 tries. 

The second major series comes one week later when the Tigers host last season’s conference champion — and the predicted favorite to win it again this year, according to the Ivy League coaches poll — the Yale Bulldogs. Princeton will be looking to get revenge on the Bulldogs, who won last season’s two-game series by a combined 11–1 score, getting back at the Tigers after being defeated in a thrilling 2016 conference championship series.

For now, the Tigers have their work cut out for them as they are projected to finish sixth in the Ivy League by the coaches poll. But at least one person disagrees. 

“Personally, I don’t agree with the low placement for Princeton,” Rece Davis said. “I think this team has a lot of weapons and I think many people will be surprised with how well they do this year.” 

One thing is for certain — whatever the outcome of this year may be, the Tigers are going in with a hungry mindset, ready to kickstart their “Revenge Tour” of the Ivy League. 

“I think that the difference with this season is that we are not just going to games to show up,” explained Davis. “We are going in there to win. We think we can win, we think we are just as good as anybody and we can beat anybody we face.”

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