Princeton baseball (11–22, 6–9 Ivy) kicked off the second half of its Ivy League campaign with a strong series in Ithaca this past weekend, taking two out of three from the Big Red (9–21, 4–11) as visitors at Hoy Field. Buoyed by strong outings from senior LHP Ryan Smith in the opening game and junior RHP Andrew Gnazzo in the rubber match, the Tigers showed the league what they can do with a squad at nearly full strength.
“It’s one of the few weekends where we feel like we’ve been fully staffed,” said head coach Scott Bradley over the phone on Wednesday.
Among those recently returning to full form were junior outfielder and pitcher Conor Nolan, who last weekend played his first game, against Penn, since pulling a hamstring at the start of the season, and junior infielder Ramzi Haddad, who according to Bradley played most of the first half of the season severely under-strength as a result of illness.
“With [Nolan] and Ramzi back in, it really stretches our lineup out,” said Bradley. “We feel, for the first time, that we can score and get big hits one through nine.”
Haddad certainly made his presence known, going 5-for-13 and tallying six RBIs in the series, including a career-high three in the Tigers’ series-opening 7–2 win Saturday morning.
It was a game which saw Princeton jump to a quick 3–0 lead in the first inning and was put to rest by a shutdown performance by Ryan Smith, who allowed just two runs with four strikeouts in eight innings of work. The senior had the privilege of pitching with excellent run-support, as his teammates tacked on another three runs in the fifth and one in the seventh.The Tigers opened their weekend with a win for the first time all season.
In the second game of the twin bill, it was the Big Red who took an early lead, scoring three off of Princeton starter, junior RHP James Proctor, before the Tigers brought it level with three in the fourth. Led by Haddad and sophomore third baseman Taylor Beckett, the men in orange scored five in the fifth to take an 8–3 lead, but a seven-run response from Cornell in the bottom half of the frame was enough to swing the score for the last time. The home side rallied again in the seventh and eighth to close out a 15–9 victory and split the doubleheader.
Sunday’s matchup saw Andrew Gnazzo take the mound for the Tigers, looking to continue his string of solid starts stretching back to his complete-game loss against Columbia on April 7. He delivered, tossing eight innings and allowing just two runs on five hits opposite Cornell’s Jeb Bemiss, who went the distance for the Big Red. Gnazzo came out on top, however, bolstered by junior right fielder David Harding’s two-run home run in the fourth and Haddad’s clutch go-ahead single in the top of the ninth, which gave the Tigers a 3–2 lead. Nolan relieved Gnazzo for the final three outs, finishing the 4–2 affair and sending Princeton home with a 2–1 series win.
The junior’s brief stint on the mound was something Bradley had been missing throughout the first half of the season. “He’s one of our best returning players,” he said of Nolan.
While Bradley has been pushing his starters for long performances and seeing them deliver, he is all too aware that “you still need guys who can finish games.” Nolan has been that guy since his return, pitching in the ninth in four of his five scoreless innings over the last two weeks.
Though the Tigers, currently sitting sixth in the conference, will almost certainly miss out on the Ivy League championship series, “there’s more to it than that,” according to Bradley.
“Our goal, first and foremost, is to enjoy being out on the field every day,” he said of the rest of the team’s mindset going into the final few weeks. “They’re playing baseball because they love it.”
The team will look to continue their recent form as they host the Brown Bears (10–22, 7–8) this weekend at Clarke Field. Having won five of their last six games, the Tigers have a chance to overtake their Ivy foes for fifth place in the conference standings. The first game starts at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 28.