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Baseball loses two of three in season-opening series at UNC Wilmington

Men in white uniforms line up on the side of a field with hats over hearts for the national anthem.
Men's baseball lines up for the national anthem before the last of their three game series.
Courtesy of @PUTigerBaseball/X.

As signs of spring bud around campus, one of the surest signs of the changing seasons began on Friday as the Princeton baseball team (1–2 overall, 0–0 Ivy League) kicked off their season against the University of North Carolina Wilmington Seahawks (UNCW) (4–3, 0–0 Coastal Athletic Association). Princeton dropped the opening and closing games of the series, but took the middle game in dramatic fashion.

Princeton last took on UNCW in 2018, when they opened their season with a catastrophic four-game sweep in Wilmington. Last year, the perennially strong Seahawks won the CAA tournament, punching their ticket to the NCAA tournament yet again. The Tigers, meanwhile, engineered a stunning turnaround, riding a revamped coaching staff and strong bats to a 17-game improvement over the previous season and a spot in the Ivy League Championship. These new-look Tigers impressed throughout the weekend, playing two competitive games and only letting the first one get away.


Tigers fall in first game of season

The first game, with first pitch scheduled for 4 p.m. on Friday, was initially in jeopardy due to adverse weather conditions as rain and wind pounded the Carolinas. The two teams were finally cleared to get going at 7 p.m., three hours later than the expected start time. With winds blowing towards left field, the Seahawks handed the ball to starting pitcher RJ Sales to kick off the evening. Sales set down the Tigers in order, retiring three in a row to set the tone for the rest of the game.

In the bottom half of the inning, Princeton first-year starting pitcher Sean Episcope took the mound for his first career start. Episcope, hailing from Chicago, carried an immaculate 0.00 ERA across 70 innings throughout his senior year of high school. Episcope, though, was quickly introduced to the harsh realities of the college game as UNCW teed off. Left fielder John Newton opened the frame with a double that rolled all the way to the wall in right-center, and one batter later, center fielder Trevor Marsh sent a towering fly ball over the left field wall for an opposite-field two-run home run. 

Marsh continued to hurt the Tigers in the next inning, stealing a home run from senior first baseman Kyle Vinci with a leap at the wall. In the inning, four singles off Episcope and two errors by the Princeton infield allowed UNCW to plate four more, ending the first-year’s night with six runs allowed (five earned) in three innings. 

Princeton senior Jason Ramirez took the mound as a bulk reliever, scattering four hits and a run over the next three frames as UNCW entered the seventh up 7–0. They tagged on one more against senior Tigers pitcher Patrick Jarvis, who appeared in a game for the first time since 2022 due to an injury that kept him out for the 2023 season. As the seventh inning came to a close, UNCW’s Sales departed after a seven-inning, one-hit effort. 


An RBI single by sophomore second baseman Jake Koonin, returning to his home state of North Carolina, saved the Tigers from the shutout but proved to be too little, too late as Princeton fell 14–1 in the opener.

Kim dominates, leading Tigers to Game 2 win

On Saturday, the Tigers once again faced the Seahawks and avenged their loss the day before, winning the game at 2–1. 

The Tigers had 19 strikeouts but managed nine hits against UNCW 6'8'' pitcher Jacob Shafer to come out on top. Junior utility player Jordan Kelly had three hits, giving the team multiple chances to advance their runners. In the third inning, senior infielder Nick Dipietantonio scored the first Tigers run with a RBI single.  Sophomore infielder Jake Koonin later continued the momentum with an RBI double in the fourth inning, bringing the score to 2–0. 

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Koonin’s RBI double in the fourth inning was crucial in advancing the game. “Our offense did just enough,” Koonin said to The Daily Princetonian, “We had huge games out of Jordan Kelly and Justin Kim which really helped us as well.” 

Starting sophomore pitcher Justin Kim proved to be essential in winning the game, scattering three hits and holding down the fort. Junior pitcher Jacob Faulkner came in later to relieve Kim, and maintained the Tigers success. In the eighth inning, UNCW had the bases loaded but junior pitcher Jacob Faulkner quickly shut them down with a strikeout and ground out to third.

“Faulkner’s ability to come into the  bottom of the eighth inning with no outs and get us out of a jam was huge,” Kelly noted to the ‘Prince’. 

“The pitchers managed the games well,” said assistant coach Joe Haumacher. “They dealt with a lot of adversity and tough situations with a lot of maturity and poise.” 

Kim struck out 9 out of 10 UNCW hitters and UNCW’s only run came in the sixth inning.

This was a tight game for the Tigers and the pressure was on coming back from a loss the day before. 

“I just tried to slow the game down.” Koonin added when asked about the difference in the Tigers performance in Game 2. 

DiPietrantonio hits first homer of season, but Tigers lose series finale 

After the high of their first victory, the Tigers took the field again on Sunday to wrap up the series. Junior starting pitcher Richard Ferrer-Westrop, making his first appearance since 2022, toed the mound for the Tigers against starting pitcher Zane Taylor of UNCW. The Tigers got out to a fast start in the first inning, taking the lead almost immediately. Senior star third baseman Nick DiPietrantonio slugged Princeton’s first dinger of the season, sending a first-pitch mistake from Taylor to left for a home run. 

“After we watched film on Taylor, I planned on ambushing a first-pitch fastball,” DiPietrantonio told the ‘Prince.’ “Especially after seeing heavy doses of fastballs to Scannell and Shapiro before me, my approach was to be on time for it and do damage.” 

Ferrer-Westrop’s season got off to a shaky start, with five first-inning walks allowing two Seahawk runners to score. Princeton relinquished their early 1–0 lead, and trailed for the rest of the game. Junior pitcher Andrew D’Alessio was stellar in a relief effort, throwing three scoreless innings after Ferrer-Westrop departed in the second. D’Alessio worked around a pair of baserunners in the second inning, then set the Seahawks down in order in the third and fourth.

Wilmington added to their lead in the fifth, as a single, a pair of walks and two wild pitches from first-year pitcher Elliot Eaton allowed two more to score for a 4–1 lead. Sophomore pitcher Will Sword took the Tigers the rest of the way.

After starter Zane Taylor left the game in the sixth inning, the Tigers got to reliever Trace Baker in the seventh. Vinci singled with one out in the inning, and was promptly driven home as Koonin smashed a double into UNCW’s expansive left field foul territory. Suddenly, the Tigers were back in the game to the tune of a 4–3 deficit. Unfortunately, this was all they could manage. Princeton stranded a pair of runners in the top of the eighth inning, and UNCW tacked on one more run in the bottom of the frame. The Seahawks held on to a 5–3 lead, and the Tigers went home with a losing record. 

Though the weekend ended on a low note, there were plenty of positive takeaways for the Tigers, who arrived back in Princeton early Monday morning. Game 1 aside, the team was competitive against a high-quality opponent for 18 innings of hard-fought baseball. Kim’s stellar performance turned heads for the Tigers, and solid efforts in relief during Game 3 suggest a deep pitching staff that the team can lean on across the long season.

“We saw a lot of encouraging things this weekend,” DiPietrantonio told the ‘Prince.’ “Saturday was a fantastic display of pitching and showed the talent that our staff has developed. That along with several young guys stepping up in big spots shows the potential this team has as the season progresses.”

The Tigers will once again board a bus for North Carolina on Thursday afternoon, as the team will face off against the No. 17 University of North Carolina in another three-game set this weekend.

“There is a lot of trust on this team," said Kelly. "I'm confident by the end of the year we will be ready to compete for an Ivy League Championship." 

Joseph Uglialoro is a staff Sports writer for the ‘Prince.’

Ify Obianwu is a Sports contributor for the 'Prince'. 

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