Coming into the District 12 Little League Intermediate (50/70) tournament last week at Farmview Fields, the Princeton squad had to scramble.
“The team was put together 10 days ago,” said manager Jon Durbin. “We started practicing the day after the team was announced so we had six practices as a team.”
While the squad didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, it was able to apply the perspective it gained last year from its first appearance in the Intermediate tourney which utilizes a modified baseball field using a 50-foot pitching distance and 70-foot base paths and is open to players ages 11-13.
“With a year of experience we learned a lot strategically in putting together the team and handling the pitching,” said Durbin.
“Last year we were young, we had only one 13-year-old. This year, we have five 13-year-olds, six 12-year-olds and two 11-year-olds. We are an older, more mature team.”
Showing its maturity and skill, Princeton rolled to the championship round of the double-elimination competition with three straight convincing wins, topping Cranbury 10-0 on Thursday, Millstone-Roosevelt 17-2 on Friday, and defending champion Bordentown 11-1 a day later.
Princeton is slated to host Bordentown on June 24 in the finals and would earn the title with a victory. A loss by Princeton would set up a winner-take-all finale on June 25.
In Durbin’s view, the team’s hot play is due, in part, to a selfless mentality and a heightened emphasis on defense.
“There are two things we have been really focusing on in practice,” said Durbin.
“One is getting all the guys to buy into the team and doing whatever the team needs. It doesn’t matter where you bat or what position you play. They are all in. We are doing extended fielding in practice. We have them doing the same amount of time in the infield as in the outfield so if they are called on to play a position that they are not familiar with, they will be more comfortable.”
Princeton developed a comfort level in the opener as pitchers Akira Nishiu, Jackson Rho, and Atticus Lynch combined for a no-hitter with Lynch and Eli Okoye each getting two hits to spark the offense. Lynch supplied the power in the win over Millstone-Roosevelt, going 4-for-5 with two homers, four runs, and two RBIs.
The combination of timely hitting and superb pitching has made Princeton a force to be reckoned with.
“Atticus has been on fire at the plate and has been playing a terrific shortstop,” said Durbin. “Okoye has been hitting well as has Tommy Reid. Nishiu and Rho have been pitching really strongly.”
Princeton’s strong start along with some sparkling glove work made the difference in the win over powerful Bordentown.
“When we saw Bordentown last year, the guys were thinking they are so big, how can we be on the same field with them,” said Durbin.
“Our confidence was higher this year after the two wins and we were able to push back after they took the lead in the first inning. We had some good defensive plays that put a lid on a couple of potentially big innings. We are not afraid of Bordentown and that is 75 percent of the battle.”
Durbin expects his players to keep battling with the title on the line. “If the boys are still fired up, still focused, and not getting overconfident, we should keep playing well,” said Durbin.