It was only a few weeks ago when Tiger baseball (6–26, 3–12 Ivy) had lost 20 of 22 games and was wallowing in terms of most defensive metrics.
Now, they’re competing with — and beating — top ten competition.
The baseball team traveled to Piscataway, N.J. last Wednesday and defeated rival No. 8 Rutgers (32–9, 12–3 Big Ten) in comeback fashion. Then, over the weekend, the team won one out of a three-game home clash against another rival, Harvard.
Now, with four wins in their last ten tries, the team is showing some momentum. With only eight games remaining and the Ivy League title far out of reach, it’s a lost season. But, now a team defined by a gritty tendency to persevere, brighter days seem to lie ahead for Tiger baseball.
Princeton started strong and opened the scoring against Rutgers with sophomore outfielder/pitcher Matt Scannell’s two-run home run to center. Scannell also started on the mound and delivered three strong innings, his only blemish a solo homer in the third. Princeton used some contact hitting from the top of the order to string together a four-run second inning. Five batters contributed multi-hit efforts, which consisted of nearly the whole infield — Scannell, junior centerfielder Brendan Cumming, junior second baseman Noah Granet, sophomore third baseman Nick DiPietrantonio, and junior shortstop Eric Marasheski.
The rest of the game for Princeton was a tale of two pitchers. Rutgers — ranking eighth in the nation with a .316 batting average — deconstructed Princeton’s sophomore reliever Jason Ramirez in a disastrous fourth frame. Coming off a solid showing against Cornell, Ramirez was only able to muster one out, while allowing six runs, hitting two batters, and balking to allow a run to score.
Junior reliever Reece Rabin then entered to save the day and delivered a superhuman performance. Pitching five and two-thirds innings of shutout ball, the junior from Dallas, Texas flatlined the visitors. For the final three innings, he was perfect, allowing no baserunners on an efficient 35 pitches.
But Ramirez’s collapse still left the Tigers in a 7–6 hole. Excellent Rutgers relief made even that small lead seem out of reach. But in the eighth inning, DiPietrantonio, with the green light on a 3–1 fastball, muscled a home run over the left-field fence to even the score at seven. After a one-two-three bottom of the eighth from Rabin, singles from Cumming and Granet set the stage for Scannell with the game on the line. A first-pitch double gave the Tigers a 9–7 lead and the win in Piscataway.
The victory over the Scarlet Knights was the first ranked victory for the Tigers since they beat No. 22 St. John’s in 2017. Rutgers was on a 16-game winning streak, the longest active streak of any Division I team.
The Crimson (16–18, 7–7 Ivy) then came to town over the weekend. The first game on Saturday, a 2–0 victory for the visitors, featured virtually no offense from either team, with a total of seven hits in the afternoon. It was thus an uber-efficient day for all pitchers. Junior starting pitcher Jackson Emus delivered another lunch-pail performance, tallying a workman-like eight innings with four strikeouts, on a concise 98 pitches. Over 54.2 innings of work this year — easily the most on the team — Emus now sports a shimmering ratio of 57 strikeouts to just 17 walks. But the Tiger offense’s two hits and 16 strikeouts left a goose egg on the scoreboard in the first game.
More solid pitching lifted Princeton in the second game on Saturday. Harvard got out to the early lead with a two-run homer in the top of the first. But after that, sophomore starting pitcher Tom Chmielewski pounded the strike zone for the following six innings, dealing six strikeouts and no walks.
The Tiger offense stayed limp but managed to construct four runs off singles, sac flies, and smart baserunning. That would prove enough, especially as Rabin came in for the six-out save in the eighth, allowing just one hit with a clean 21 pitches.
The rubber game featured all the offense that the first two lacked. A 12-inning, 24-run, four-and-a-half-hour affair, the game was a back-and-forth slugfest. The first two games totaled 223 and 253 total pitches, respectively; the third totaled a whopping 517.
The Crimson climbed to an 8–0 lead over the first five innings, which the Tigers reversed to a 10–8 advantage by the bottom of the seventh, headlined by a grand slam from first-year backup right fielder Jordan Kelly, his first home run of the year.
Errors spelled demise for the rest of the game. A costly bobble from Marasheski in the eighth allowed two runs, tying the game at 10. The score would stay there through the ninth and in the first two innings of extras. In the 12th, another error allowed a run to score, this time by junior catcher Carlos Abello’s mishandling of a bunt. Scannell, pitching in emergency relief, would allow three more runs, constituting the knockout blow in this many-round boxing match. The Crimson won the game and the series, 14–10.
The Highlanders of the New Jersey Institute of Technology (17–18, 10–8 America East) will come to Clarke Field on April 27. The Tigers will then take on fellow Ivy League basement-dwellers Brown (8–22, 3–12 Ivy) in Providence, R.I. over the weekend.
Gabriel Robare covers baseball, constructs crosswords, writes news, and reviews theater for the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached on social @GabrielRobare or at email@example.com.