When baseball opened its Ivy League slate this past weekend, it knew that pitching would be essential to its success. While the adage that pitching and defense win championships holds true for any team, it seems especially true for Princeton in its march through this Ivy season.
The Ivy format, which has each team play a pair of seven-inning doubleheaders on a given weekend, can place incredible strain upon – and test the depth of – any pitching staff.
Adding to this pressure is the fact Princeton (10-6 overall, 3-1 Ivy League) has yet to prove itself an explosive offensive team. While the Tigers' offense has started to connect of late and seems to have improved from last season, in which it finished seventh in the Ivies in hitting, pitching is still the strength of the team.
As a result, the Tigers knew their hurlers would be called upon to lead the way as conference play began Saturday and Sunday against Harvard and Dartmouth.
Last weekend, the staff responded.
After the Tigers dropped Saturday's first game, 6-3, junior left-hander Tim Killgoar took control in the second, allowing just one run while scattering six hits over six innings of work in Princeton's 10-2 victory.
Senior Joe Machado looked even better in the first game against Dartmouth Sunday. The lefty pitched six scoreless innings, giving up just four hits in a 2-1 win.
In the second game, sophomore right-hander Jason Quintana followed with five strong innings before running into trouble in the sixth, as the Tigers took the game, 10-4, and swept the Big Green, ending the weekend with a 3-1 conference record against the two best teams in the league from a year ago.
Head coach Scott Bradley calls his staff the best in the league, and thus far the Princeton staff has staked a claim to that title. With senior right-hander Bryan Stroh, Killgoar, Machado, and Quintana emerging as a strong starting rotation, and a host of capable relievers – the staff goes 12 to 13 pitchers deep – the Tigers have the depth to be competitive in any game.
Bradley has a simple philosophy that he wants his staff to live by – "take it one pitch at a time."
Control and focus
"You just can't afford to look forward and say that I'm going to face this guy three or four times today," he said. "We want our pitchers to work quickly, to throw strikes and let our guys in the infield handle some balls.
"We don't have to have our pitchers dominate. All our pitchers have to do is throw all of their pitches for strikes."
Thus far, the staff has done just that– neither walking many nor overpowering many – but keeping hitters off balance at the plate.
Part of their success comes from stressing "command." That is, Princeton hurlers work on having the confidence to throw two or three different pitches for strikes at any point in the count.
Earlier in the season in midweek, non-conference matchups, Bradley tried to give all of his pitchers some work. But when the Tigers face Ivy foes on weekends, Bradley will use a set rotation. Stroh and Killgoar will start on Saturdays, while Machado and Quintana will start on Sundays.
These four starters, along with the rest of the staff, will be called upon again in weekends to come to keep the Tigers in ballgames. Time will tell if they can respond again.