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Mid-Atlantic trip yields varied results for Princeton baseball

The baseball team’s spring break was an eventful one. Princeton (5-11) faced some tough opponents, saw blowouts both good and bad and found reason to be confident in its pitching staff just a week before the Ivy League season begins.

The Tigers’ visit to Greensboro, NC was a tumultuous one. After losing a 12-inning marathon of a game 11-10, Princeton seemed to run out of energy and allowed the Spartans to put up 11 runs in the nightcap while managing to plate just one run. Sunday’s finale was the exact opposite, as Princeton won 11-1 in a game that was called after eight innings.

Senior leadoff hitter Alec Keller went seven-for-16 over those three games and is now hitting .333 on the season. Continuing to impress in their rookie seasons, freshman outfielder Paul Tupper went eight-for-14 and drove in four runs while freshman first baseman Nick Hernandez went five-for-13. Tupper currently leads the Tigers with a .378 average.

As the scores indicate, Princeton got mixed results from its defense in Greensboro. Though senior starting pitcher Michael Fagan let up only two earned runs in four innings, seven runs were scored and the Spartans got 10 hits over that span. Likewise, sophomore starter Cam Mingo and freshman pitcher Bryce Keller were roughed up to the tune of a combined nine runs in Saturday’s second game, only three of those runs were earned — Princeton committed three errors over the course of the game.

In the finale, however, the Tigers overcame two errors thanks to freshman starter Keelan Smithers, who went seven innings with just one run, and senior righty AJ Goetz, who shut the door with a scoreless eighth inning.

Tuesday’s game with No. 12 UNC was cancelled, as was Thursday’s game with Maine. Princeton met Duke on Wednesday. Sophomore starter Luke Streiber looked solid through three innings but was tagged for three runs in the fourth and four more in the fifth, giving the Blue Devils (14-11) a lead they would not relinquish. Though senior Jonathan York threw two innings of one-hit, no-run ball and sophomore southpaw Chris Bodurian pitched a perfect eighth, the Tigers managed only one run in the final frame — Tupper plated sophomore second baseman Danny Hoy after Hoy tripled to start the inning — and lost 7-1.

Though the cancellation robbed Princeton of an opportunity to face nationally-ranked UNC (15-8), they scheduled an even tougher opponent in the Tar Heels’ place. They headed north to Charlottesville, Va. to face the No. 3 team in the nation, Virginia. The game went about how one might expect, as the Cavaliers (17-4) roughed up three straight Tiger pitchers, scoring 14 runs over the first five innings. The bleeding stopped, however, when freshman pitcher Chad Powers took over and threw one and two-thirds scoreless innings. Goetz and Bodurian both tossed scoreless innings themselves to end the game.

The Tigers scored in the first, fourth and seventh, notching four total. Alec Keller was three-for-four against possibly the best pitching Princeton will face all year and sophomore shortstop Billy Arendt went two-for-three, scoring Keller twice.

One of the highlights of the week, and of Fagan’s career, came on Saturday, when the lefty threw a one-hitter against Navy. With little room for error – Tupper singled in the game’s only run in the third — Fagan made his best case yet for a spot in the starting rotation, going a full seven innings and striking out eight Midshipmen (12-11).

That performance looked even more impressive in light of the next game, when Navy put up nine runs, turning Princeton’s one-run lead going into the seventh into a five-run deficit going into the ninth. Hoy and junior catcher Brett Geren recorded two RBI each, but the Tigers failed to answer and lost 9-4. Mingo let up three earned runs in a four-inning start while Bodurian was saddled with the loss.

The third game of the series saw Smithers’ worst outing to date, as the rookie let up seven runs (five earned) on eight hits and was pulled with two outs in the third. The Tigers got two runs on just three hits, not nearly enough to keep up with the Midshipmen, who won 8-2.

The pitching was back in business in the final game of the break. Powers got the start, throwing five scoreless innings. The ball started to get away from the rookie in the sixth, when a hit batter, a walk, a wild pitch and an RBI groundout gave Navy its first run. Streiber replaced Powers in the seventh and threw a scoreless frame before loading the bases in the eighth and being pulled in favor of York. One run scored, but York limited the damage.

Alec Keller, who had two hits already and had been plated by freshman first baseman Zack Belski twice, started the top of the ninth with a triple and crossed home plate with ease when Tupper tripled in the next at bat, giving the Tigers insurance they would not need. York retired the side in the next frame and Princeton capped its break with a 4-2 win.

The Tigers will get some much-needed rest this week as they gear up for their Ivy opener. Harvard will visit Clarke Field Saturday, followed by Dartmouth on Sunday.

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