June 9, 2021

PHS Baseball Makes Historic Breakthrough, Earning First State Tournament Win in Decades

STATEMENT WIN: Players on the Princeton High baseball team celebrate after the 13th-seeded Tigers upset fourth-seeded Edison 6-4 in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional last Wednesday. PHS went on to fall 8-1 to 12th-seeded Old Bridge in the sectional quarterfinals last Saturday to end the spring with an 11-9 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the 13th-seeded Princeton High baseball team, edging fourth-seeded Edison 6-4 in the first round of the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional last Wednesday was more than an upset.

“That is the first state playoff win for us since the 1980s, we think,” said PHS head coach Dom Capuano.

“That is absolutely big. The message I said to them is you have to enjoy it, you have to be proud of yourselves. We just did something that hasn’t been done in 30 years.”

Capuano was proud of the way his team attacked the game, scoring three runs in their first at-bat of the contest.

“Getting three runs in the first, that was huge,” said Capuano. “We haven’t done that all year. I think their kid on the mound definitely had a little bit of nerves and we capitalized, which was good.”

PHS found itself trailing 4-3 entering the fifth and responded with another three-run frame to regain momentum.

“It was kind of the same thing, we had three-run first and three-run fifth,” said Capuano.

“Flynn Kinney came though both times with three RBIs of the six runs. Connor McDowell had two hits.”

Senior star pitcher Tommy Delany came through for Tigers, after yielding two runs in the first and working through jams later in the contest.

“He probably had a little bit of nerves in the first,” said Capuano of the Penn-bound Delany who went six innings, irking out 10 and giving up four hits.

“I wish that we had that Tommy Delany in the fifth and sixth inning, he may not have given up a run all year if he had that stuff. He had this look in his eyes. Generally we try to keep Tommy around 90 pitches, so at the end of the fifth he was at 93. I went up to him and said, ‘you are at 93 pitches, if you go back out there you just have to be willing to go to the maximum because I can’t put you out there for five pitches. I need you to do the inning.’ Right away he said, ‘I want to go’ and he sure did.”

Three days later, PHS fell 8-1 to 12th-seeded Old Bridge to finish the spring with an 11-9 record.

“The score is a little misleading only because in the first inning we gave up one unearned run on an error and then in the top of the fifth we are tied 1-1,” said Capuano who got two hits and an RBI from junior center fielder Jensen Bergman in the loss.

“The game got a little away from us. They got one unearned run in the first and then they got four runs in the fifth and three in the sixth. We scored one in fifth.”

Capuano acknowledged that Old Bridge hurler Jason Gilman stymied the Tigers as he recorded 12 strikeouts and yielded four hits.

“We knew they had good pitching and he was a really good pitcher,” said Capuano.

“As a team, hitting wasn’t always our strong point. We were pretty good at timely hitting. He threw a little harder and was able to exploit our weaknesses.”

In the postgame message to his squad, Capuano urged his players to reflect on the states experience as a whole.

“Let’s not let another 30 years happen before we get another win in states; a win in states needs to be the norm,” said Capuano.

“We need to continue to evolve our culture and our expectations, and work ethic so that getting the second round is now expected. Then we can keep pushing forward and evolve our game. It is learn from it, remember what the success was like against Edison and remember how upset you are losing against Old Bridge and put the work in to evolve that.”

Capuano credited his trio of seniors Delany, Kinney, and Andrew Lambert with having a positive impact on the team’s culture.

“Flynn and Tommy as sophomores were there at the beginning and helped to carry that message,” said Capuano, noting that Delany became a starter as a freshman.

“Lambert came in and helped this year. You have to give the senior class credit for being that class that broke the curse. Flynn all year led the team in hitting and Tommy was unquestionably our best pitcher. Flynn is not your prototypical No 3 hitter but he still hit .370. That can be someone people look at and say, ‘just do your job.’ This year was the first year that Tommy got a win, his sophomore year was all no decisions or losses. He went 5-0 this year with one save and won big games for us.”

With a corps of 11 juniors, Capuano is hoping that class does some big things next spring.

“There is a lot more growth to be had as a whole; I think certain people evolved in certain areas,” said Capuano.

“It is exciting as long as they buy in and we can do some stuff this summer and they can work hard. Let’s work a little harder, let’s dig a little deeper, and let’s try to progress as a whole.”

In Capuano’s view, the breakout win over Edison should serve as the inspiration for that kind of commitment.

“The Edison game encapsulates all of it; when you look at the regular season we went 10-8 — all 10 wins were against teams that were below us in the standings and all eight losses were to teams above us,” said Capuano.

“Most of the losses were one-run games. I kept saying that eventually we have to beat these teams if we want to go where we want to go. When it ultimately counted the most, we did it. It gives them a sense of belief, they can do it now. That is where we build from; the message going forward is building off of that and setting new expectations.”