The beginning of the baseball team’s season is always a mixed blessing. The Tigers (0-3) can usually count on getting shellacked at least once, as in Sunday’s 11-0 loss to University of California Santa Barbara. On the other hand, they get to spend time in California and Florida gaining valuable experience while temperatures in the Garden State hover around freezing.
Princeton will see action in the Sunshine State against Michigan this weekend after three losses on the West Coast to UC Santa Barbara which started its season last weekend. Though those games were lost 9-1, 18-10 and 11-0, the Tigers saw plenty of good signs.
Perhaps the brightest ray of hope so far has been freshman first baseman Nick Hernandez. Fighting for the chance to earn the first base spot vacated by 2013 Ivy League Player of the Year Mike Ford ’14, Hernandez has made his case well so far with five hits and two RBI in 11 at bats.
Freshman outfielder Danny Baer also hit the ground running with an RBI single in his first college game last Friday. He had three more hits over the course of his 10 at bats last weekend.
As the scores demonstrate, defense is an area in which the Tigers would like to improve as the Ivy League season draws near. With the rotation still not set, it is likely that head coach Scott Bradley will try out a number of different looks this weekend, aiming to give young players the chance to prove they can hold their own against the Ancient Eight. Such experiments yielded mixed results last weekend. As could be expected, young pitchers like sophomore Luke Streiber and freshman Chad Powers and Keelan Smithers had less-than-smooth starts, but senior Michael Fagan was on his game. Though he never got into a groove last season, Fagan looked sharp in five innings of work, allowing one earned run and just four hits.
Fans can expect to see more of the young arms this weekend, as the aforementioned underclassmen are among the top candidates for spots in the rotation and will have ample opportunity to throw while sophomore righty Cam Mingo is sidelined with an elbow injury. Bradley and his staff are also likely to give more frames to freshman pitcher Bryce Keller, who threw two innings of no-hit ball over the weekend.
This weekend’s games will take place in the spring training-like atmosphere of Port St. Lucie, FL. The Wolverines (4-8-1) come in with two more weeks of game experience than the Tigers; their first game was on Valentine’s Day and they hit a bit of a stride this week with consecutive victories over Florida Gulf Coast and University of Central Florida.
Unlike Princeton, Michigan has been playing long enough that it is clear how it will get much of its production. Outfielder Jackson Glines is hitting .345 after 13 games with nine RBI, leading his team in both categories. Though the Wolverines appear to be cycling through pitchers much like the Tigers are, two starters will clearly be reliable for them this season: Ben Ballantine and Trent Szkutnik each sport an ERA of under 3.00 in over 17 innings of work so far.
After this weekend’s quadruple-header with Michigan, the Tigers will work their way up the East Coast. They visit University North Carolina Greensboro March 15-17 and will play UNC Chapel Hill and Duke in the next two days. After a four-day stop in Maryland — where the softball team was scheduled to play this weekend before weather rendered the field unplayable — Princeton will open its Ivy schedule against Harvard at Clarke Field on March 29.