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Vol. LXV, No. 19
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
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STEVIE WONDER: Princeton University baseball player Steve Harrington follows through on a swing last Sunday in the decisive game of the best-of-three Ivy League Championship Series. Sophomore Harrington chipped in two doubles and three RBIs as Princeton topped Dartmouth 8-5 to win the title.

Sparked by Harrington’s Bat, Goetz’s Stellar Pitching, PU Baseball Tops Dartmouth in ILCS to Make NCAAs

Bill Alden

One is known for his quick hands and the other has a rubber arm.

The combination of Steve Harrington’s ability to put the bat on the ball and A.J. Goetz’s stellar pitching made the difference as the Princeton University baseball team outlasted Dartmouth 8-5 last Sunday at Clarke Field in the decisive game of the best-of-three Ivy League Championship Series.

Sophomore designated hitter Harrington clubbed two doubles and had three RBIs while freshman Goetz came out of the bullpen to give up just one run over the final 4 2/3 innings of the contest.

The victory gave Princeton its 17th league title but first since 2006. It also qualified the Tigers, now 23-22, for the NCAA tournament, which will start on the first weekend of June.

The championship may have been one of the most improbable in the proud history of the program as the Tigers went from last in 2010 and its worst-ever Ivy campaign to first this spring.

Befitting a spring of rallies and one tight game after the other, the title didn’t come easily. The Tigers started the ILCS with a bang, topping the Big Green 9-2 in game one of a doubleheader on Saturday. But in the nightcap, Princeton suffered a disappointing collapse, blowing a 4-0 seventh inning lead to fall 5-4.

As Harrington and the Tigers hit the field in Sunday, they had put Saturday’s frustration in the rear view mirror.

“I think we held on to the loss for about an hour or two,” recalled Harrington.

“We came into the locker room this morning and it was let’s do it today. Yesterday was washed away; we knew we were going to come back today.”

The 6’2, 200-pound Harrington helped Princeton get off to a good start on Sunday, hitting a run-scoring double in the second and then chipping in a two-run double an inning later.

“I was just letting my hands do the work,” said Harrington, reflecting on his first double. “Luckily I got a pitch to hit and I just put the barrelhead on it.”

Princeton scored at least once in each of the first four innings as it built a 5-2 lead. The Big Green, though, got to starter Kevin Link for two runs in the fifth to narrow the gap to 5-4.

The Tigers responded with three runs in the sixth as Jonathan York smacked a key two-out, two-run double.

“It is always good to get those runs across early,” said Harrington. “They fought back but we got some big RBIs in the sixth inning.”

The Philadelphia native and former Penn Charter star had to fight hard to get playing time this spring after batting .238 with five hits in 21 at-bats in seven games as a freshman.

“I didn’t play a lot last year,” said Harrington, who is also a member of Princeton’s men’s squash team. “I just stayed tough and kept confidence in myself and my own swing. I knew I would get the opportunity and I did this year. Luckily when I got the chance, I got some hits.”

Harrington’s work on the squash courts has helped make the most of his opportunities on the diamond.

“It helps with some hand-eye stuff and I am in good condition coming into the season,” said Harrington, who is hitting .315 this year with 34 hits in 108 at bats and 22 RBIs.

“It has definitely made me mentally tougher being a squash player. I think it is a great thing to do both, I love both my teams. It’s been great how things have worked out so far.”

Freshman closer Goetz exhibited plenty of mental toughness after coming into the game with one out in the top of the fifth.

“I try not to think too far ahead of myself; I try to just focus on one pitch at a time because every out counts,” said Goetz, who had pitched 22 innings in 12 appearances coming into Sunday. “Dartmouth is a really good hitting team so the focus was on the next pitch to the batter.”

Goetz lost his focus a bit in the eighth when he surrendered a homer to Jason Brooks.

“It was a bit of a wakeup call,” recalled Goetz, a 6’2, 175-pound native of Denver, Colo.

“Even after a couple of innings of staying ahead and having success, I needed to continue to make my pitches and try to work ahead and mix up speeds.”

In the ninth, Goetz buckled down after giving up a leadoff hit to close the deal and set off a raucous celebration which saw the Tigers fling their gloves in the air before piling up on the mound.

“Those last three outs are the hardest to get,” said Goetz, who picked up the win to improve to 3-1 and now has an ERA of 1.33.

“The leadoff hitter getting on hurt a little bit. I was confident of throwing strikes and I had the defense behind me that could get me out of it. It is a moment you dream of, winning a championship and being on the mound when the last out is made. It is great to have it happen like that.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley was feeling great afterward as he reflected on his team’s triumph.

“I am just thrilled for our guys, especially that senior class,” said Bradley, who credited his group of seniors with bringing the passion back to Princeton baseball after last year’s struggles.

“It is not very often when you get a bunch of seniors that have to take the backseat. You have a bunch of seniors who had prominent roles for a good bit of their careers and because of some recruiting and stuff like that had to step back.”

Bradley has been happy to see Harrington play a prominent role for the Tigers this spring.

“Stevie has what we call magic hands,” said Bradley. “He is also a squash player and he has unbelievable hand-eye coordination. He just has this unique way of flicking balls. and putting the barrel of the bat on the baseball.”

After squandering Game 2 on Saturday, it was critical for Princeton’s bats to come out cooking on Sunday.

“You have to be able to jump out and be able to play with a lead,” said Bradley, who got three hits apiece from John Mishu and Sam Mulroy on Sunday. “We didn’t know how far Kevin [starting pitcher Kevin Link] would go. We were able to continue to score which was the key. Jonathan York got a key hit against their closer. We had a sacrifice fly to give us a two-run lead and then we were able to get a couple of more to make it a 4-run lead and that really, really helped us out.”

It also really helped out Princeton that its closer, Goetz, came through with such a good outing as he gave up four hits, striking out two and walking none.

“A.J. just has an unbelievable amount of composure and focus in every aspect of everything that he does,” asserted Bradley. “You watch him throw on the side and you watch him in side workouts and how much he throws. It is no surprise.”

While Princeton may be a surprise guest at the NCAA party, Bradley believes his players will adapt well to the challenge.

“We had a good run before where our guys had experience with it but for these guys it is going to be new,” said Bradley, who has now guided the Tigers to six Ivy titles in his 14 seasons at the helm. “It will make the next three weeks or so a heck of a lot of fun.”

For Harrington, the first couple of months of the season have been plenty of fun.

“This spring, our younger players took over and started getting more playing opportunities and the older kids started taking over, leading and teaching us by example,” said Harrington.

“There is just a special chemistry on the team. Everybody did their job, people came up in the right situations and got the hits when we needed them. We just did it as a team and everyone played their role. It is amazing and fun to be a part of.”

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