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Photo Caption: Max West after striking out in game one of the Columbia series

Photo Credit: Mark Dodici, Sports Staff Writer / Daily Princetonian

The baseball team picked up its third Ivy League win of the season against Columbia over the weekend, but with the victory came two stinging losses. 

The Tigers (6–18, 3–6 Ivy) came into the weekend 2–4 in conference play, still looking for the elusive first series win of their 2019 Ivy campaign after dropping back-to-back sets to Dartmouth and Harvard. The Lions (10–14, 6–3 Ivy) had proven to be a formidable foe early in the season, having taken down Cornell and Dartmouth to enter the weekend in a three-way tie atop the Ivy League standings. 

The series opened Saturday morning at Clarke Field. Senior Ryan Smith took the mound for Princeton, fresh off a strong effort against Harvard the weekend prior in which he allowed just one earned run over 7.1 innings. 

The Lions’ potent offense made sure this performance could not be repeated, scoring one run each in the second, third, and fifth innings. Princeton scored twice in a sixth inning rally highlighted by an RBI triple from first-year center fielder Nadir Lewis, and the Tigers were back in the game.

Things quickly got out of hand, however, as Smith put runners on first and second with two outs in the top of the seventh. After a lengthy mound visit, the senior stayed in the game to face Chandler Bengston, Columbia’s power-hitting first baseman, who sent a three-run home run over the Lions bullpen in right-center to make it a 6–2 game. 

The Tigers failed to put any pressure on the visitors over the final three innings. Insurance runs for Columbia in the eighth and ninth brought the score to 8–2, and Princeton went down quietly in the ninth to close out the series opener.

In game two of the doubleheader, Columbia starting pitcher Saajan May dispatched fourteen consecutive Tigers before allowing a baserunner, a streak broken with a two-out walk in the fifth inning. The Lions already had a 3–0 lead.

The Princeton offense showed signs of life in the sixth and the seventh, scoring a run in each frame, but the Lions tacked on three more, leaving the Tigers in another 6–2 hole after seven and a half innings.

Columbia’s stellar pitching staff struggled to find the zone in the bottom of the eighth, walking the the leadoff man before senior left fielder Chris Davis tripled to deep center field. Davis was brought around by a single from sophomore shortstop Jake Boone, bringing the Tigers within two. Three consecutive walks brought in another run and brought catcher Max West to the plate with the bases loaded and nobody out. The senior delivered with a single to left field, plating two and giving Princeton a 7–6 lead, its first of the day. 

The Tigers tacked on one more in the eighth, and first-year Reece Rabin swiftly handled the Lions in the ninth to close out a come-from-behind, 8–6 victory and send the series into the third game tied at one.

Sunday afternoon at Clarke Field saw a true pitchers duel, with Princeton junior Andrew Gnazzo and Columbia junior Ben Wereski going toe to toe in the rubber match. 

The Lions got on the board first, putting up two in the fifth after failing to bring in runners in scoring position in three of the first four innings. Wereski dominated through the first five, scattering four hits, before losing the strike zone in the sixth. After a one-out walk, he hit Harding in the foot and walked sophomore third baseman Taylor Beckett to load the bases, bringing up West in another big moment. 

West could not deliver this time around, popping out to the shortstop in shallow left field. Senior designated hitter Joe Flynn, however, worked a walk, and the Tigers were on the board without a hit in the sixth. Wereski was relieved by junior Jimmy Smiley, who induced a weak groundout to end the inning. 

It was the last threat the Tigers would create. Despite a two-run complete game by Gnazzo (the first of his career), the game finished in a glum 2–1 defeat for Princeton.

“We just couldn’t do the job when we needed to,” said West after the game. Despite extending his hitting streak to nine games, the catcher had been one of many Tigers who missed out on opportunities throughout the day. “A lot of times we didn’t even need a hit, we just needed to put the ball in play… that’s what stings the most.”

Regardless of the team’s third consecutive series loss, West had a positive outlook for the rest of the campaign.

“I don’t think we’re done this year,” he said confidently. “We have every piece of the puzzle that we need to be a winning team, and in these next coming weeks we’re just going to have to put it all together.”

The Tigers next chance to connect the pieces will come on Wednesday, when they host Seton Hall, but the focus will be on this weekend’s three-game set at Penn. The Quakers (17–8, 6–3 Ivy), coming off of a sweep on the road against Dartmouth, will take the field in Philadelphia in a three-way tie atop the conference, while the Tigers will be looking to climb out of sixth place before the second half of the season.