Last weekend, for the second week in a row, a struggling Princeton baseball squad took on an Ivy League foe for a three-game set. And for the second week in a row, they returned to Princeton with just one win.
“It was a tough weekend,” said head baseball coach Scott Bradley, two days after the Tigers (5–15 overall, 2–4 Ivy) closed out their 1–2 series loss to Harvard (13–6, 4–2). “But the games were close.”
While a brief check of the scoreboard might not immediately support that statement, a closer look at the box scores for the three games shows a series that could have gone either way.
After Friday’s contest, a resounding 12–0 defeat for the Tigers, one might have expected a runaway series win for the Crimson. But, as Bradley pointed out, “It was a one-run game through five [innings], and a three-run game through six.”
Junior RHP James Proctor started the game for Princeton, throwing five innings and allowing three runs (all earned) with six strikeouts and five walks. With no run support, he would go on to get the loss, falling to 1–3 on the season. It was not until the Harvard offense exploded in the seventh inning, however, that the game’s fate was sealed. The Crimson scored seven runs and sent ten batters to the plate in the frame.
“Our bullpen kind of imploded,” said Bradley of that particular inning. Down 12, the Tiger lineup went quietly through the last two frames and looked ahead to Saturday’s doubleheader.
A sunny Saturday morning in Cambridge saw Princeton’s top starter, senior LHP Ryan Smith, take the mound in an attempt to right the ship, squaring off against Harvard’s Buddy Hayward. A pitching duel ensued, with both hurlers scattering two runs through the first seven frames. Smith took the mound for the bottom of the eighth, with the game knotted at 2.
After dispatching the first batter, however, he loaded the bases on a walk, a single, and another walk, before an untimely error gave the Crimson a 4–2 lead. Freshman Eric Hoefer relieved Smith, letting the third runner score before closing the frame, but the damage had been done. Smith finished the day with 7.1 innings pitched, 11 strikeouts, and just one earned run.
This time, however, the Tigers did not go quietly in the ninth, loading the bases with nobody out. Senior designated hitter Joseph Flynn hit a sacrifice fly to right, which cut the deficit to two, but freshman second baseman Eric Marasheski bounced into a double play to end the game, cutting the rally just short.
“We made a big error late in the ballgame that cost us,” said Bradley about the second game, “but Ryan Smith was terrific; he pitched really well.”
It wasn’t until the third and final game of the series that Princeton truly settled in. Led by first baseman Flynn and freshman center fielder Nadir Lewis, both of whom went 3-for-5 with 3 RBI and a home run, and senior catcher Max West (2–4, 4 RBI, HR), the Tigers jumped to an early lead and never gave Harvard a chance.
Small ball and smart base-running earned three runs in the first for the Tigers and three more over the next two frames, but it was West’s fourth-inning grand slam that gave Princeton a 10–0 lead — plenty of breathing room. The only Harvard threat came with four runs in the sixth, which only brought them within nine of the Tigers.
Freshman Reece Rabin earned the save, pitching four innings of relief to close out the 16–9 victory.
“We finally really got the bats going,” said Bradley of the series-closing performance.
It’s a trend the Tigers would undoubtedly be happy to continue, as they travel east to Monmouth on Wednesday for a mid-week matchup. However, it isn’t the biggest of Bradley’s concerns.
“The mid-week games are just to get us some work,” he said of the squad’s afternoon jaunt to the Jersey shore. Slightly more pressing, however, is this weekend’s series against a familiar Ivy League foe from New York City.
“Columbia’s very good,” he put simply. The Lions boast a 4–2 record in Ivy League play, having won series against Cornell and Dartmouth and currently sit in a three-way tie with Harvard and Yale atop the Ivy standings. “We’re gonna have to play our best. Swing the bats, score some runs.”
The series starts with a doubleheader on Saturday at Princeton’s Clarke Field. First pitch is scheduled for 11:30 a.m.