Murphy’s Law certainly applied to the Princeton Day School baseball team this spring.
Things started going wrong in the first inning of the season opener as PDS pitching ace and junior quad-captain Cole McManimon was hit by a line drive that broke his hand, knocking him out of action for more than a month.
Playing shorthanded, the Panthers struggled, going 4-12 and getting eliminated in the first round of both the Mercer County Tournament and the state Prep B tourney.
It was all hands on deck for PDS this spring as the shortage of manpower required versatility.
“Some days we dressed 11 and all of the kids had two or three gloves in their bags,” said Panther head coach Ray O’Brien. “Instead of getting down, the kids embraced it. Everyone got to pitch in.”
O’Brien credited his players with maintaining an upbeat attitude as they dealt with the ups and downs.
“When you are going through a difficult season, it can become unpleasant for the players and the coaches but that never happened this spring,” asserted O’Brien. “The guys stuck together and played hard, it was a good group of guys.”
Senior quad-captain Ford Schneider played a key role in holding things together.
“Ford was a great leader, he showed the younger guys how to play,” said O’Brien of the Emory-bound Schneider, who hit .356 on the season.
“He was the epitome of a captain, he set a good example. He is what we want in a PDS player. He hit the ball well and played a good center field. He did whatever we needed.”
Junior shortstop and quad-captain Jake Alu did very well this spring, leading the Panthers in hitting (.419), runs (15) and hits (26) and posting a 2.06 ERA in 20 1/3 innings of work on the mound.
“Jake was our most consistent player; he led the team in most offensive categories,” said O’Brien of the Boston College-bound Alu.
“He was terrific at shortstop. When we needed him to pitch, he did well. We wanted him to be our closer but we didn’t have many opportunities for that.”
Another junior quad-captain, Villanova recruit and first baseman James Radvany closed with a rush, posting a .364 batting average.
“JP ended up with some pretty decent numbers, he started to come on at the end,” added O’Brien. “He got a lot of walks, people pitched around him.”
The team’s quartet of freshmen, Paul Franzoni (.341 batting average), Ryan Sparks (.383 batting average), Zach Dudeck (.453 on-base percentage), and Chase Fleming (23 2/3 innings and 3.25 ERA) came on strong.
“I don’t know what we would have done without Paul Franzoni at catcher; he caught every inning and was really good defensively,” said O’Brien.
“I was surprised at how well he represented himself at the plate, he hit above .300. He will come back bigger and stronger, I am excited to have him for the next three years. Ryan Sparks played first, outfield, and was a left-handed pitcher for us. He did all of that well and he hit well. I think he was our second or third top hitter. Dudeck played really well in the outfield; he ended up with a pretty good on-base percentage. Chase Fleming led us in innings pitched and appearances. He can find the strike zone; he is your typical crafty lefty.”
PDS also got good play from sophomores Dom Gasparro (.300 batting average) and Sam Guarino (.275 batting average). “Dom had a pretty good season, he really came on at the end of the year,” said O’Brien. “Sam really looked good at times, we just need him to be more consistent.”
In O’Brien’s view, enduring this spring’s rocky ride should help the Panthers be more consistent in the future.
“We lost a lot of close games, I think we had four one-run games; we were competitive the whole year and I think that is a good sign,” said O’Brien.
“We were playing so many young guys, to be in those games and be close will help us. We need to learn how to win those games. Having Cole back next year will make a big difference. All three of the big juniors will be captains and I think they will pick up where Ford left off.”