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Despite 0–11 record, Tiger baseball inspires hope over spring break

<h5>Nadir Lewis against Mississippi State.&nbsp;</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of <a href="https://twitter.com/PUTigerBaseball/status/1503112754470834179/photo/1" target="_self">@PUTigerBaseball/Twitter.</a></h6>
Nadir Lewis against Mississippi State. 
Courtesy of @PUTigerBaseball/Twitter.

While the women’s basketball team found great success in Cambridge, the varsity baseball team took a trip through the south and found much tougher sledding.

The Tigers (0–11 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) entered the weekend with four losses against Purdue in February. They were scheduled to play four teams across Virginia to start the break: Virginia Commonwealth University on March 5, The College of William & Mary on March 6, the University of Richmond on March 7, and Old Dominion University on March 8. While the Tigers weren’t able to return with a win that weekend, they showed promise throughout.


Then, later in the week, the team traveled to Starkville, Miss. to take on the No. 23 Mississippi State Bulldogs and defending College World Series Champions in a three-game set. Three more losses there dropped the team’s overall record to 0–11 despite capable offensive play.

In the first game of the trip through the Commonwealth, the Tigers lost 2–1 to VCU (6–8, 0–0 Atlantic 10) in Richmond. Despite the loss, Princeton had some great plays, including a 13 strikeout gem from junior pitcher Jackson Emus. The six foot, five inch player from Massachusetts was bullish on the mound, hurling 118 pitches over seven innings of work while holding the Rams to two hits and one run. It was the most strikeouts for a Tiger pitcher since 2012.

Princeton manufactured a run to score first. Junior outfielder Nadir Lewis led the second batting with a double. He quickly advanced to third on a passed ball. Sophomore outfielder Matthew Scannell drove Lewis home on a sacrifice fly to open the scoring. Lewis would finish the game 1–2 at the plate with two walks and a run scored.

VCU’s third-baseman, Tyler Locklear, drove a solo home run over the left-field wall to tie the game in the fourth. Both offenses remained quiet for the remainder of the game outside of a few scattered baserunners as the defenses and pitching stayed sturdy. In the seventh, Emus walked the bases loaded with one out, but he worked his way out with a pitcher’s best friend: a bases-loaded double play to get out of the inning.

Emus came out after the seventh, and VCU took the lead at the end of the eighth, putting together a run on a walk, sacrifice bunt, grounder to third, and in-field single. That run would prove final — and fatal — to the Tigers.

Despite the loss, the Tigers looked to make a comeback against the Griffins of William & Mary (5–7, 0–0 CAA). While they found more success at the plate, they still came up short. The top of the lineup — junior centerfielder Brendan Cumming, sophomore rightfielder Scott Bandura, and Lewis in leftfield — combined for six hits in 11 at-bats, driving in all six runs and scoring four themselves. The rest of the team combined for four hits in 24 chances.


William & Mary’s doubles shredded the Princeton team all day; the opponents hit seven doubles, most of which they managed to convert into runs. The Griffins took an early two-run lead, with a double and RBI single in the first inning followed by another double and another RBI single in the second. Cumming halved the lead on a solo home run in the third. 

The end of the fourth saw another Griffin double and RBI single to put the game at 3–1. The squads traded runs — a Lewis sacrifice fly and a William & Mary RBI double — to put the game at 4–2 after the fifth. William & Mary blew the game open in the sixth, scoring four more runs on a sacrifice fly, RBI single, and two-run double.

Still, baseball stands alone in sports in its ability to inspire hope. 

In the ninth inning, when the score was 9–3, Lewis hit a three-run homer to cut the lead to 9–6. Despite one more single, the Tigers couldn’t muster any more offense, dropping another game.

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The Tiger offense stayed hot in another loss to the Richmond Spiders (10–4, 0–0 Atlantic 10). The Spiders scored first with an opposite-field home-run in the first and an RBI single in the third. Sophomore Kyle Vinci’s homer and a stolen run off an error tied the game at two by the sixth. Sloppy pitching from the Tigers gave the opponent two runs off a hit batsman and a wild pitch. Unfortunately for Princeton, the score was 6–2 going into the ninth.

The Tigers powered on, scoring a run off an error and an RBI single from Emus to put the game at 6–4. Then with two outs, the bases were loaded. Lewis stood in the batter’s box, and with the game on the line, the left-hander hit an absolute moonshot grand-slam to right field. Lewis took a slow trot up the first baseline as Princeton took the lead, 8–6.

Even with a late Princeton lead, the Spiders earned a two-run homer and walk-off RBI-single to win the game. A nine-run ninth inning fell the wrong way for the Tigers, but the team showed it has the sluggers to keep up with elite teams.  

In the last game in Virginia, the team faced off against No. 24 Old Dominion (13–1, 0–0 C-USA). The Tigers were outmatched offensively early on. The Old Dominion Monarchs led 13–0 by the end of the fourth inning, powered by a seven-run second frame. 

Even with the game moot before its halfway point, the Princeton offense still demonstrated promise in the rest of the game, putting together five runs on nine hits though the last five innings. Lewis stayed hot, going 2–4, showing off his speed with a double and triple.

In the three games against Mississippi State (10–7, 0–0 SEC), the Tigers lost 11–2, 3–2, and 9–1. In the first game, the Tigers got on the board early with a leadoff home run from Cumming. The Mississippi Bulldogs then methodically built an 8–2 lead over the course of the game through a combination of home runs, contact hitting, and quality base running. A three-run home run from the Bulldogs put the game far out of reach by the end of the eighth. The usual suspects —  Lewis and Cumming — managed to persevere on offense with two and three hits respectively.

The other two games against Mississippi consisted of a doubleheader on Sunday. In the first game of the day, neither team found much offensive success. The Tigers outhit the Bulldogs 9–6, but the opponents’ hits came at the right time to knock runners around, securing an insurmountable 3–1 lead by the sixth. First-year Andrew D’Alessio pitched a seven-inning gem, holding the nationally-ranked Bulldogs to one of their worst offensive showings of the season.

In the second game, the Tigers couldn’t get the offense moving again, while the Bulldogs built off a six-run second inning to put the game away. Lewis hit a home run in the sixth, Princeton’s only run of the game.

Despite a zero in the win column thus far, there’s reason for hope for Princeton baseball. The team has lost five games this season by just one run and has played four games with 10 or more hits. The team has been led by Lewis, Cumming, and first-year right fielder Jordan Kelly, all with batting averages over .300 and on-base-plus-slugging over .800. Together, the trio have more hits and runs than the rest of the team combined. 

Lewis has been a bright spot to say the least. He leads the team in all major batting categories, and his .500 batting average, .583 on-base percentage, and 1.000 slugging percentage, ranked ninth, 17th, and ninth in the nation, respectively are all among the best in the nation. Emus has also received national recognition as the Ivy League pitcher of the week for his gem against VCU.

Next weekend, the Tigers are back on the road to Maryland for a four-game set against Towson. The following weekend will be an Ivy home opener with a three-game set against League foe, Yale.

Gabriel Robare is a guest contributor to the sports section. He is the co-head Puzzles Editor and a senior Prospect writer and a contributing News writer. He can be reached at grobare@princeton.edu or on social at @gabrielrobare.