June 13, 2018

Posting First Winning Campaign Since 2001, PHS Baseball Was Fueled by Team Chemistry

CLOSING STATEMENT: Princeton High baseball player Alec Silverman follows through on a swing in a game this spring. Senior catcher and Macalester College-bound Silverman enjoyed a big year, batting .400 with a team-high 19 RBIs in helping PHS go 13-9 and advance to the Mercer County Tournament semifinals. It marked the program’s first winning season since 2001. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Enjoying its first winning season since 2001, the Princeton High baseball team boasted a potent mix of pitching, hitting, and fielding in going 13-9.

But PHS head coach Dave Roberts will tell you that the key ingredient to his squad’s success this spring was togetherness.

“One of the things I said to them at the end is that if anybody ever tells you that team chemistry is not a big deal, they are wrong,” said Roberts.

“It was a big deal for us. There were 16 guys who were in it, who wanted to be there, accepted their roles, and just really, really, wanted to make the year great and they did.”

PHS made a great run in Mercer County Tournament, advancing to the semifinals where it fell 4-2 to Nottingham.

“I definitely think we earned their respect, we could have won that game,” said Roberts, whose team had lost 16-1 to Nottingham in a regular season meeting between the teams in mid-April.

“I loved the way [Ben] Amon was pitching that day; I thought he would come out on top of that thing. It looked for a while there like it might but a couple of key things happened. We proved we belonged there, that is for sure.”

The season ended on a down note as 13th-seeded PHS dropped a 2-0 nail-biter to fourth-seeded Sayreville in the opening round of the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional tournament as the Little Tigers couldn’t come up with the key hits in the defeat.

“I don’t know if it was the long layoff,” said Roberts, whose team only managed two hits in the setback.

“We had the whole week off, we were supposed to play a game with Ewing, and it kept getting rained out and it kept our timing from being a little better. We are not going to make excuses. We knew what we were getting, we weren’t nervous. I don’t know what the story was, we couldn’t get the bat on the ball.”

In reflecting on the improvement made by PHS this spring, which saw it bounce back from a 6-17-1 campaign in 2017, Roberts cited strong pitching and improved defense as to key factors.

“I honestly think the biggest areas of progress were Amon (2-5, 2.68 ERA, 53 strikeouts) and Teddy Durbin (4-1, 2.88 ERA, 48 strikeouts) really working on everything that we asked them to work on,” said Roberts.

“We played better defensively, that is the reality. We played better. About midway through the season, even though we were 5-2, 5-3, I moved Mike Ramirez over to shortstop and that helped settle the infield down. I thought that was a big move for us.”

The team’s senior class made a big impact on and off the field. “They were a group dedicated to baseball and dedicated to winning and making their senior year great,” said Roberts, whose group of seniors included Paul Cooke, Mike Frost, John Girouard, Jaedyn Paria, Alec Silverman, David Valente, Zack Yoelson, and Ramirez.

“The seniors were great. Alec had just an unbelievable year  (.400 batting average and a team-high 19 RBIs) and Paul did what Paul does (.414 with a team-high 20 runs). Their contributions are just tremendous.”

Roberts is confident that the program won’t have to wait 17 years for the next winning season.

“I do think there is hope for next year; we are going to need to have some young guys step up,” said Roberts, who returns such standouts as Amon, Durbin, Tommy Reid, Guatam Chawla, Jay Ramirez, Owen Seals, and Tommy Delany.

“We are going to be looking for a catcher for the first time in three years. There is some work to be done.”