Ellis Bloom and his teammates on the Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball team found themselves in an unusual position as they headed into the final days of the regular season.
With Post 218 having never qualified for postseason play in its 24-year history, the team was battling Ewing for sixth place Mercer County American Legion League (MCALL) and the final spot in the state playoffs and relishing the chase.
“We knew in the beginning of this week that we had to do well,” said Post 218 third baseman Bloom.
“We could slip up once or twice but we knew we had to win the majority of the games. We did a good job of fighting. We took care of business on Monday. We got two wins there (against Robbinsville), which was really big. Then we had a slip up (an 11-1 loss to Hamilton on July 16) and that happens but the best part about that was that we were able to bounce back and we didn’t take that 10-run loss to the grave. We actually used it to our advantage. We had a very exciting and great win against Hopewell.”
Coming into the final day of the regular season last Thursday, Post 218 hosted league champion Bordentown Post 26 and controlled its destiny.
If Princeton won, it was in the playoffs no matter what happened to Ewing, who was playing Lawrence and WW/P in makeup games on Thursday. A Princeton loss combined with a Ewing split would still get Post 218 a berth in the state playoffs.
Leading off the bottom of the first inning, Bloom helped Post 218 get off to a good start against Bordentown, singling and then scoring as Princeton took a 1-0 lead.
“I really felt good, especially after wiggling out of a runner on third situation in the top of the first and then coming right back and getting a run,” said Bloom, who graduated from Princeton High last month where he starred on boys’ basketball and baseball teams.
“Unfortunately we weren’t able to get more on that. If we got one or two past the pitcher, we might have scored more.”
Princeton gave up three runs in the top of the second and found itself trailing 5-2 in the fifth when Bloom came in from third to relieve starting pitcher Rohit Chawla.
“My mindset was just to throw strikes,” said Bloom. “Obviously, if I walked too many people they would start ringing up the score. So just throwing strikes was really important and I thought I did a good job of mixing up my pitches, which really showed keeping them at zero.”
Princeton did rally in the bottom of the seventh as it got two runners on but was unable to score as it fell 5-2. To make matters worse, Ewing swept Allentown and WW/P-to grab the last playoff spot.
While it was disappointing for Post 218 to fall short, Bloom was proud of the way the team battled in posting a final record of 12-12.
“That has been our calling card the entire year,” said Bloom, referring to the team’s perseverance.
“Our biggest win of the year was probably the Allentown win and we were down by four going into the seventh inning and being able to come back was great for our confidence. That is essentially the definition of this team. One game goes our way and we are in a different situation. Going 12-12 has been great, just being in the hunt for the first time in a long time has been exciting.”
Post 218 manager Tommy Parker tipped his hat to his scrappy club, which improved markedly from a 7-15 campaign in 2012.
“That is great progress,” asserted Parker, who is the only manager in the history of the Post 218 program.
“We lost a couple of games early and that was literally just the way the ball bounced against teams that became the cream of the crop. We actually split with the second place team (Allentown).”
Parker credited Bloom and his other veteran players with helping to put Post 218 in place for its run at a playoff spot.
“Ellis has been stellar the whole season; he has been one of our stalwart guys,” said Parker.
“The senior guys have showed great leadership to the younger guys. What can I say about the older guys, like Ian Naccarella and Jon Hayden. Jess Russo is a warrior, he has been bumped and bruised and beat up and he has hung in there. It has been a total team effort. We have had great pitching. I am pleased.”
Boasting a foundation of some promising young players, Princeton should be able to hang with the best teams in the MCALL going forward.
“The most exciting thing is that a lot of these guys, if not most, are going to be back,” said Parker.
“The young guys have gained experience. We got a lot of help from Colin Ganges; he played as though he has been playing forever. He went on a hitting tear. Chris Sumners is an eighth grader and he has been playing good ball. I look forward to Ben Grass’ development. The young guys are going to be great.”
Bloom, for his part, has had a great experience this summer. “Starting two years ago, we won two games but one was by forfeit,” said Bloom, who is heading to Gettysburg College where he will be trying to walk on the school’s baseball team.
“So winning 10 more games than two years ago has been excellent. We always start the game thinking that we are going to win. It doesn’t matter if we are playing Bordentown or Broad Street Park or any of the tough teams or any of the bottom teams. It is just a tribute to the toughness of this team.”