A new coach, a new philosophy?
The answer is yes and no as Scott Bradley takes over as head coach of the baseball team following the retirement of 16-year head coach Tom O'Connell after last season. While Bradley plans not to change the style of play, he brings a new attitude of coaching to Princeton.
"In terms of the coaching style, it's just so much different, so laid-back," senior center fielder Michael Hazen said. "The guys seem to be responding to him pretty well."
In terms of playing style, no new strategies are needed. The Tigers – 20-25 overall and 10-10 in the Ivy League a season ago – have won the Gehrig division of the Ivy League two years in a row, and with a veteran team in 1998, no major changes are needed. Bradley will rely on the experience of his team, specifically his nine seniors, to dictate the style of play.
On the mound
And what is the strategy? Strong pitching. Princeton will rely on the depth of its pitching to carry it to another Gehrig title.
"We have the pitching and defense," junior pitcher Tim Killgoar said. "You know the old saying is that pitching and defense win championships, and we hope that's the way it's going to be this year. I'd take our pitching staff against anyone's in the league."
Killgoar, an All-Ivy honorable mention selection last season, will lead the Tiger pitching this year. He was ranked 13th in earned run average among pitchers in the Ivy League, posting a 5.40 ERA and 5-4 record on the season. He will anchor a pitching core which includes seniors Bryan Stroh and Ben Smith, and sophomores Jay Tedeman and Jason Quintana. Such pitching depth will certainly be to the Tigers' advantage, as conference play is dominated by doubleheaders.
While there will be no specific role pitchers, Bradley expects to see a lot of pitcher turnover in games, making it hard for opposing hitters who could have to face four pitchers in a seven-inning game.
The pitching staff will be backed by an experienced core of players in the field. Junior Jason Koonin will play left field and Hazen will patrol center. Junior Matt Evans will man first base and the Griffin brothers, seniors Asher and Justin, will play second and shortstop, respectively. Sophomore Chris "Buster" Small should fill the role behind the plate at catcher.
That leaves third base, right field and the designated hitter positions left to be determined. According to Bradley, these questions will be answered when the team begins its season next week with its annual trip to North Carolina.
There are a number of players, including sophomore Jay Mitchell and freshmen Jon Watterson and Max Krance, who could fill these positions. Sophomore Mike Levy, a switch hitter with some power, could fill the role as designated hitter.
On offense, the Tigers will look to the same core of veterans to score runs. The first three in the lineup will be Koonin, Hazen, a self-described contact hitter and a first-team All-Ivy selection last season, and Evans, who led the team in hitting in 1997 with a .377 average. Small should also play a major role on offense. Bradley feels that the Tiger hitting may lack power but has the ability to hit into the gaps.
In preparation for the spring trip and conference season, the team has concentrated on practicing the fundamentals. Instead of learning complicated plays, the majority of practices are spent hitting, throwing and catching – what Bradley considers the fun part of the game.
The Tigers hope to repeat as Gehrig division champions, but Penn will likely, once again, be their closest rival. In the Ivy League overall, Harvard will probably be the team to beat, as Princeton and the Crimson have battled for the league title the past two seasons.
With Bradley as its new coach, however, the goal for Princeton is more than just a title. The more important one is acting and playing the right way, perhaps reflecting the new direction Bradley hopes to take Princeton baseball.
"He's just infused the program with a new attitude," Hazen said. "I think he's the future of Princeton baseball."