Akira Nishiu was fired up as he took the mound for the Princeton Little League (PLL) squad against Bordentown in the final round of the District 12 Intermediate 50/70 tournament last week at Farmview Fields.
“I wanted to win again because we lost last year to Bordentown,” said Nishiu, a native of Osaka, Japan talking through translation provided by his father. “I wanted to get revenge.”
With starter Nishiu pitching well, Princeton got payback as it topped defending champion Bordentown 8-3 to win the competition, 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.
Holding Bordentown to a pair of runs on three hits in three innings and picking up three strikeouts, Nishiu helped Princeton seize momentum in the contest. “I wanted to spot it low and away on both the straight and breaking ball,” said Nishiu, reflecting on his mound effort.
Nishiu helped Princeton break the game open as he delivered a key two-run single in a four-run rally in the third inning.
“I wanted to bring the two runners home so I hit the ball hard,” said Nishiu, recalling the hit.
Princeton manager Jon Durbin credited Nishiu’s pitching with helping to get things off on the right note.
“He had the Bordentown hitters baffled again,” said Durbin, whose team took a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
“That is pretty much what he has done in all three games. I think getting off to the early start made a huge difference because once again it showed to us that we could definitely play with them.”
The squad’s four-run fourth inning made a big difference. “That was huge,” said Durbin. “Teddy [Durbin] getting a hit to get one run in and then Jackson [Rho] and Akira getting the two big hits to open up the game gave us a lot of confidence.”
In Durbin’s view, the title is the product of years of diligence. “I think for the team it is the fruition of all the years of hard work that they have been putting in,” asserted Durbin, whose team went 4-0 in the District 12 tournament, outscoring its foes 46-6 in the process.
“These three age groups, in particular, are the beginning of revitalization and transformation of the Princeton Little League program. This is the first cohort where we really started to systematically put through more rigorous training, both within the PLL and encouraging them to play travel baseball and working with pro coaches. All three of these groups are lined up together sequentially, which is one of the reasons that this came together so well. We really took it to the competition in this tournament. Now between the 11s, 12s, 13s on the team, you can see how well trained they are and how much poise they have.”
Princeton also blended a good chemistry with the training and poise. “I think the biggest thing that I noticed in this tournament was the total unselfish attitude towards the team,” added Durbin.
“For this group to come together the way they did in basically one week as a select all-star team and to play so unselfishly as a team with no complaints was totally different from last year’s experience.”
Experiencing success in the double-elimination Section 3 tournament in Lacey, which was slated to start on July 1, would earn Princeton a return trip to Farmview Fields.
“I think knowing that the state championship is going to be back here in Princeton definitely turned out to be the hidden motivating force,” said Durbin.
“They didn’t go crazy tonight. I think a lot of them were already starting to focus on the sectionals. We are going to the sectionals and we are playing to come back to compete in the state championships in Princeton.”
Nishiu, for his part, believes the club can compete with anyone. “I believe in my teammates, coaches, and manager,” said Nishiu. “I think they are the best.”