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Baseball wins three of five games during rain-marred spring break

For the baseball team, the spring break training trip is typically a time to work out the kinks and solidify the lineup. With 10 games scheduled throughout North Carolina, this is exactly what the Tigers hoped to do over the past week. Mother Nature, however, had other things in mind.

Rain prevailed from Tuesday through Saturday, allowing Princeton to play only half of its scheduled games. Despite the weather, the Tigers compiled a 3-2 record, defeating Elon College (4-3, 4-2, 8-3) three times and falling to both North Carolina State (6-5) and North Carolina (6-4).

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The shortened training period prevented head coach Scott Bradley from getting a good look at the few players competing for the undetermined positions of third base, right field and designated hitter.

Little experience

"That was part of the problem," junior left fielder Jason Koonin said. "We only got in five games instead of 10, so the coach didn't get a chance to see everyone; some of the freshmen only got in six at-bats instead of 12."

The bad weather puts the Tigers behind schedule, but with six games in the two weeks before the Ivy League opener against Harvard April 4, Princeton should have plenty of time to sort out its lineup.

With the winning record, however, the trip was far from pointless.

"I would definitely say (the trip) was productive," senior center fielder Michael Hazen said. "We won the first three, then played well against two ranked teams."

The Tigers began their season with a doubleheader sweep over Elon College (14-8) March 14, with another win the following day.

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In the first game, Koonin's grand slam off Elon starter Dan Zeckman (2-2) accounted for all the team's runs. The two-out shot gave Princeton a second-inning 4-0 lead that it would never relinquish. The Fighting Christians kept up the pressure with a sacrifice-fly run in the fourth and another unearned run off an error by senior shortstop Justin Griffin in the sixth, but could not make the comeback.

Senior Asher Griffin came in to pitch with no outs and the tying runs on base in the seventh inning, but recorded three straight outs to claim the save.

In the second game, the Tigers went down early, 3-1, but battled back to tie by the fifth inning, riding a fourth-inning homer by freshman catcher Casey Hildreth and Hazen's RBI single.

Repeat performance

Junior designated hitter Matt Evans drove in the winning run in the top of the seventh, before Asher Griffin finished off Elon for the second straight game. Griffin saved the game with three straight outs and the tying run on base.

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Sunday's game was not as close as the previous day's doubleheader, as the Tigers won easily, 8-3, behind the hitting of Evans. The Fighting Christians again took an early lead, this time behind Lou Falcon's solo home run off junior right-hander Howard Horn.

Evans then became a one-man wrecking crew, driving in five of the next six runs. His three-run home run in the third and two-run blast in the fifth put the Tigers ahead 6-1 and made the game unreachable for Elon.

Junior reliever Jeff Golden gave up a two-run homer to the Fighting Christian's Mike Delke, but earned the win nonetheless with three innings of relief.

In Raleigh, N.C., the next day, the Tigers fell to a late rally by strong N.C. State, 6-5. The Griffin brothers accounted for Princeton's first four runs. Justin Griffin's two-run triple in the fifth and Asher Griffin's two-run single in the seventh tied the game at four and led to the final-inning excitement.

Pinch-hitter Mickey Martin drove in sophomore catcher Buster Small in the top of the ninth to put the Tigers up, 5-4. But then the Wolfpack made a two-out comeback with four straight singles off senior right-hander Brian Stroh.

The Tigers have a game tomorrow against Monmouth and two doubleheaders this weekend, one of which was recently arranged by Bradley to make up for the lack of play over the spring training trip.

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