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On Mid-Atlantic spring break, Tigers will look to fine-tune before conference play

baseCommon sense and countless interviews indicate that moving from high school to college baseball is quite a task. Much to his surprise, freshman outfielder Danny Baer found that this is not always the case.

“It wasn’t as steep of an adjustment as I was expecting,” last week’s Ivy League Rookie of the Week said.

Baer, currently batting .360, is not the only rookie who has already made an impact for the Tigers (2-5). His classmate, first baseman Nick Hernandez, was the 2014’s first Ivy Rookie of the Week and is hitting .400 through his first 30 at-bats. Freshman outfielder Paul Tupper appears to be angling for Rookie of the Week honors himself — his average stands at .348, and he hit the Tigers’ first home run of the season.

“I think the freshmen are feeling good,” Baer said. “It’s been very nice — a lot of us play the same position — so every day you go to practice, you push each other.”

“I think that stems from the upperclassmen, with the mood that they have,” he added.

That goes for the bull pen as well. As Princeton split four games with Michigan last week, rookie pitchers Keelan Smithers and Bryce Keller made their cases for places in the starting rotation. Smithers allowed three earned runs in five innings, striking out three while Keller kept the Wolverines (6-10-1) to one run, unearned, in four innings of work with three strikeouts. Another freshman, Chad Powers, let up just two runs on two hits over five innings in another game.

Head coach Scott Bradley will hope to see more of such performances from his young players over spring break, as the team will work its way up the East Coast over the course of 10 games.

The Tigers will spend five days in North Carolina, playing UNC-Greensboro three times before single-game clashes with UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke. Thursday will see Princeton in Annapolis, Md., to face Maine. The Tigers will remain there for a four-game weekend series against Navy before heading back to Princeton to resume classes. The players are looking forward to a stint in the South.

“That’s going to be very nice, especially coming off of this midterms week,” Baer said of the schedule and the anticipated temperatures.

These opponents could prove quite challenging. No. 13 UNC (10-4) is the highest-ranked opponent the Tigers are likely to face this season. Even the opponents not as highly-ranked have much more experience than Princeton: Navy is 6-8 while UNC Greensboro is 7-9.

While the goal is always to win, Baer said that he and his teammates understand that these early-season games are good for them, even if they go badly.

“I think it’s going to benefit us in the long run,” he said of a rough opening series against UC Santa Barbara. “[W]e saw some of the best competition we’re going to get all year right away.”

Spring break will also provide the last opportunity for the team to solidify its starting rotation before Ivy League play begins March 29. Though sophomore starter Cam Mingo has returned from a minor injury and will probably take the rotation’s top spot, the next three spots for the first series against Harvard could be decided over the next week. In addition to the aforementioned rookies, senior Michael Fagan, sophomores Chris Bodurian and Luke Strieber, and even senior infielder/outfielder Jonathan York are all in the mix and can expect to be tested over the course of the next week.

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