April 18, 2012

GREAT BRITTANY: Princeton University women’s water polo player Brittany Zwirner prepares to fire the ball in a recent game. Last Sunday, junior star Zwirner scored the game-winning goal with 2.4 seconds left as Princeton edged Brown 9-8 in the CWPA Southern Division Championship game. The Tigers, now 25-4, will be competing in the Eastern Championships at Brown from April 27-29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, the Princeton University women’s water polo team developed a penchant for losing the close games.

The Tigers lost four contests by one goal and six by two goals in 2011 on the way to an 18-11 record.

In the first weekend of the 2012 season, the Tigers pulled out a 6-5 win over Colorado State, setting a different tone in the view of longtime head coach Luis Nicolao.

“We got off to a good start,” said Nicolao. “We had a 1-goal win over Colorado State and won some games easily after that; that was a good sign.”

Indeed, the Tigers reeled off 14 wins before a loss to No. 12 San Jose State. Heading into last weekend’s CWPA Southern Division Championships at Bucknell, Princeton stood at 22-4 and ranked 14th nationally.

“We were excited to get to the end of the year,” said Nicolao, reflecting on his team’s mood as it looked ahead to the Southerns and the Eastern Championships to follow. “We are not taking anyone lightly but we are confident.”

Last Saturday, Princeton showed its confidence was justified as it beat George Washington 11-8 and host Bucknell 14-6 in opening day action.

“We came out slow against George Washington but we had a nice second quarter,” said Nicolao.

“Playing Bucknell in their pool was a challenge. We had a lot of girls scoring and the defense played well. We held them to two goals in the second half, you don’t see that too often.”

In the finals, Princeton faced a Brown team it had beaten 18-8 in regular season play. The rematch, though, turned into a nailbiter and Princeton continued its habit of winning the close games this year, edging the Bears 9-8 to win the title.

“Brown is no doubt a quality team; our first game was not a true measure of their team,” said Nicolao. “They play a zone defense and all of our shots were falling that game. On Sunday, the shots weren’t going in.”

Junior star Brittany Zwirner hit the biggest shot for Princeton in the win over Brown, scoring the game-winning goal with 2.4 seconds left. Zwirner finished the game with four goals while sophomore Katie Rigler chipped in three.

“Brittany was out with an injury before; it is important to have her back,” said Nicolao.

“Rigler can dominate; she is a great player. As a sophomore, she has gained more confidence and she realizes she can dominate.”

Longtime coach Nicolao has been taken aback by the dominance his team has shown this spring.

“No doubt, I am surprised,” said Nicolao, who is in his 14th year at the helm of the program.

“I didn’t expect to have only lost four games to this point. We have a lot of depth and lot of balance. We have eight girls who have scored around 30 goals. All year, we have had a nice balance of scoring. If two girls are off, two others will step up.”

That balance paved the way to Princeton’s first Southern crown since 2008 and its seventh overall.

“Any time you get a title, it is great,” said Nicolao, reflecting on the championship. “Our ultimate goal is to win the Easterns and go to the NCAAs.”

In order to achieve that goal in that competition, which is being held at Brown from April 27-29, Princeton will need to tighten things up.

“We have to play really good defense,” said Nicolao. “We are going to see some tough opposition. We can’t rely on offense. If we string together three good defensive games, we have a chance. There are three or four teams that can win.”

GRAND PRIZE: Princeton University baseball player Blake Thomsen takes a cut in recent action. Last Sunday, freshman third baseman Thomsen hit a grand slam homer to help propel Princeton to a 13-7 win over Penn in the finale of a four-game set between the teams. The Tigers, who went 3-1 over the weekend, are now 16-13 overall and 9-3 in Ivy League play. Princeton has a game at St. John’s on April 18 before heading to Columbia for doubleheaders on April 21 and 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling in extra innings to visiting Penn in the opening game of a doubleheader last Sunday, Blake Thomsen and his teammates on the Princeton University baseball team were looking to get off to a good start in the nightcap.

“We definitely needed to bounce back strongly and get ourselves going in this tough division,” said freshman third baseman Thomsen.

“Everyone is playing well. Cornell is playing really well; we knew to keep pace with them we had to get back in it.”

With one swing of the bat in the bottom of the first inning, Thomsen helped set a torrid pace for the Tigers, smashing a grand slam over the wall in left center field to give Princeton an 8-1 lead.

The Tigers cruised to a 13-7 win as they improved to 16-13 overall and 9-3 in Ivy League play. In the wake of going 3-1 in the four-game set with Penn, Princeton stands second in the Ivy’s Gehrig Division, trailing Cornell (24-8-1 overall, 10-2 Ivy).

For Thomsen, his grand slam was a matter of anticipation paying off.

“I was just thinking it was a new pitcher and I thought he would try to get ahead with a first pitch fastball,” said Thomsen, a 5’11, 180-pound native of Newport Beach, Calif., recalling the blast. “He did and I was ready for it.”

After getting off to a relatively slow start in his college career, Thomsen was ready for a break-out moment.

“I was in a bit of a slump; I feel like I have my comfort level back at the plate,” said Thomsen, who went 5-for-11 with five RBIs and three runs scored in the four-game set with Penn to raise his batting average to .267.

“I am seeing the ball a little better, I am having some better at-bats. I’d say this weekend is when I really started to feel kind of similar mentally to back when I played high school ball.”

For Thomsen, making the transition from high school ball to college has involved some growing pains.

“The biggest adjustment is that every guy has got something at just a little higher level than high school,” said Thomsen, who now has two homers and 12 RBIs on the season.

“So whether they locate their pitches better or they throw harder, everyone  is tougher. The balls are hit a little harder defensively; there is definitely a pretty sizable jump.”

The Tiger veteran players have helped Thomsen as he makes that jump.

“They have helped me a lot; these guys have been through everything I am going through, whether it be a freshman slump, making a couple of errors, or dealing with a big Ivy weekend,” said Thomsen.

“They have been there, they have done it and they have been really helpful explaining what is going on and all of that.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley liked the way his team came back to win the fourth game of the Penn weekend which saw the Tigers sweep the Quakers 7-3 and 4-3 in Saturday’s action.

“We probably got what we deserved this weekend,” said Bradley. “We got some breaks yesterday and then caught some breaks in the first game today and got ourselves back into it. We then caught a couple of bad breaks with the ball that Sammy Mulroy hit in the bottom of the seventh. It was huge for us to come back and win this.”

In Bradley’s view, Thomsen’s grand slam should be a huge confidence builder in his development. “Blake had a good day, he was good in the first game too,” said Bradley.

“We sort of have a spot at third base where we run a few different guys out there. It was big for Blake. We think he is capable of swinging the bat and helping us out offensively and we need that. We have struggled with the bats a little bit.”

Junior Steve Harrington helped the Princeton batting attack over the weekend, going 7-for-16 with six RBIs.

“Stevie, we know, is a very good hitter; he does a lot for us,” asserted Bradley.

“He has a great feel for hitting. He is a squash player so it takes him a little bit longer to get going out of squash. We did the same thing last year; we got him at-bats and got him into it. We played him mostly against righties and then as we got going he started playing more against lefties. He is a very, very good solid college hitter.”

Princeton has to keep playing solid ball if it is to keep pace with Cornell before the teams clash in doubleheaders on April 27 and 29.

“Every weekend is huge,” said Bradley, whose team has doubleheaders at Columbia (14-19 overall 6-6 Ivy) on April 21 and 22.

“Cornell just keeps winning; they are terrific right now so all we can do is go out and just try and win the games that we can. Hopefully, when we go face-to-face with them, we are still in a position where we can control our own destiny.”

Thomsen, for his part, believes that Princeton has to keep in control mentally to be in a position to succeed.

“For the team we just have to come to play every game,” said Thomsen. “We can’t afford mental lapses. Everyone is going to make physical mistakes but we have got to be at our best mentally every game. We can’t take a game off. For me it is the same thing, just keeping concentrated and keeping my approach.”

RALLY TIME: Princeton University softball player Nicole ­Ontiveros, right, celebrates after scoring a run in action earlier this spring. Last Saturday, senior centerfielder Ontiveros stroked a key RBI single to help Princeton rally for a 4-3 win over Penn and a doubleheader split. A day later, though, the Tigers were swept by the Quakers 4-1 and 5-1 as they fell to 12-23 overall and 6-6 in Ivy play. In upcoming action, Princeton hits the road for doubleheaders at Lehigh on April 18 and at Columbia on April 21 and 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Nicole Ontiveros is trying to get the most out of every moment this spring in her final campaign with the Princeton University softball team.

“It adds an extra element to the game, knowing this is the last time I am going to play,” said senior centerfielder Ontiveros. “I just try to go all out in everything I do.”

Last Saturday in the third inning of Game 2 against visiting Penn, Ontiveros faced a big time at-bat.

With Princeton having lost to the Quakers 8-0 in Game 1 and trailing 2-0 in the nightcap, Ontiveros came to the plate with a runner on second and the Tigers in danger of falling out of contention for the Ivy League South Division title.

“I just wanted to get that run home,” recalled Ontiveros. “I was up there and I was thinking I need to get a hit, there was no other option. I had to do it.”

Ontiveros came through, slapping a single up the middle to narrow the gap to 2-1. Her clutch hitting changed the tone of the contest as Princeton scored two runs in the fourth and added another in the fifth on the way to a 4-3 victory.

“Everyone started getting right on her, line-driving everywhere,” said Ontiveros, reflecting on the comeback win. “We definitely know there is a sense of urgency because we have to win these games. It is really important right now.”

A day later, though, the Tigers weren’t able to come through as they got swept by Penn 4-1 and 5-1 to move to 12-23 overall and 6-6 in Ivy play. Princeton now stands third in the Ivy’s South Division, trailing Cornell (19-16 overall, 10-2 Ivy) and Penn (23-14, 8-4 Ivy).

Coming off a 2011 season which saw Princeton stumble to a 7-13 league mark, Ontiveros sees a renewed intensity around the Tigers this spring.

“I think the heart on the team this year is a lot different,” said Ontiveros, a native of Laguna Niguel, Calif. who is hitting .319 with a team-high 36 hits.

“We have a lot of freshmen that are really aggressive and really love the game. We are just a lot louder this year. Everyone really, really wants to win.”

For Ontiveros, the journey from her freshman year to this spring has been special.

“It’s awesome being a senior, starting freshman year and going through all the years so differently,” said Ontiveros, who is planning to go to medical school after graduation and aspires to be a plastic surgeon.

“It is great being a leader on the team and just getting to help my teammates with the experience I have had.”

As she heads into the final weeks of her college softball career, Ontiveros is hoping to go out with a great

“I am really proud of us that we came back and we didn’t let the first loss get us down which I think shows a lot about this team,” said Ontiveros, who will look to keep up her hot hitting when Princeton hits the road for doubleheaders at Lehigh (28-16, 11-1 Patriot League) on April 18 and Columbia (10-25 overall, 4-8 Ivy) on April 21 and 22.

“The fight is there and I think that is the main difference between last year’s team and this year’s team. We won’t give up ever.”

GOAL ORIENTED: Princeton High girls’ lacrosse star Emilia Lopez-Ona heads to goal last Friday in PHS’s 11-9 win over Allentown. Sophomore star Lopez-Ona scored eight goals in the contest which matched teams who came into the day undefeated. Last Monday, Lopez-Ona fired in 10 goals as PHS edged Hopewell Valley 18-16 in improving to 6-0. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host WW/P-S on April 18, play at WW/P-N on April 21, and then have a rematch at ­Allentown on April 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a freshman last spring on the Princeton High girls’ lacrosse team, Emilia Lopez-Ona didn’t attract a lot of attention from opposing defenders.

“I was playing behind two upperclassmen attackers and they were both amazing scorers,” said Lopez-Ona.

“They got the top defenders on them and I was able to score that way with the weaker defenders.”

Coming into her sophomore season, the willowy Lopez-Ona knew she would have to carry more of the offensive load for the Little Tigers and she prepared accordingly.

“This year, I definitely have to step up on the offense and in the midfield; it is a bigger role,” added Lopez-Ona. “I worked a lot in the offseason. I play for Building Blocks lacrosse.”

Last Friday, Lopez-Ona’s work paid huge dividends for PHS as she scored eight goals to help the Little Tigers edge Allentown 11-9 in a battle of teams who came into the day undefeated.

When PHS fell behind 8-5 late in the first half, it looked like Allentown was on the verge of pulling away from the Little Tigers.

But Lopez-Ona took matters into her own hands, scoring three unanswered goals as PHS knotted the game at 8-8 heading into halftime.

“I think being down and being able to come back with another few goals and work on it as a team, chipping away at that, really psyched us up coming into the second half,” recalled Lopez-Ona.

In the second half, the Little Tigers showed patience, holding the ball for long stretches and picking their spots as they took a 10-8 lead and then held off the Redbirds down the stretch.

“We knew Allentown was going to be our toughest game,” said Lopez-Ona, who tallied two of PHS’s second half goals and assisted on the other.

“It definitely gives a lot more confidence and our confidence builds through the season. We thrive off of that.”

Lopez-Ona’s on-field connection with senior star and Amherst College-bound Mia Haughton gives her additional confidence.

“I think a lot of it is that we have compatible skills,” explained Lopez-Ona, who scored 10 goals last Monday in an 18-16 win over Hopewell Valley as the Little Tigers improved to 6-0.

“She is an amazing feeder, she can feed from any release point. She knows where to put the ball. I am pretty good at getting open and finishing.”

PHS head coach Christie Cooper felt pretty good about her team’s chances even when it was on its heels in the first half.

“I wasn’t concerned; we might have gone up two and then they came back and I said to my assistant coach, this is going to be a game of ups and downs and that’s OK,” said Cooper.

“You have those in lacrosse and that’s good. It is what you can do when you are down that determines what the outcome is going to be.”

Having Lopez-Ona can certainly tilt the outcome in PHS’s favor. “Emilia is a smart player,” said Cooper, who got a goal and three assists from Haughton in the victory over Allentown with Elizabeth Jacobs and Chiara Favalaro chipping in the other goals.

“We can utilize all of our players on attack but it is always nice to know  that you have girls you can go to in a big game. It is not like I was telling her to do anything special. She finds that ball and gets it into the cage because she knows that is what we need at any given point.”

The performance of freshman goalie Mira Shane in the cage was another key factor in the Little Tigers’ win over Allentown.

“What makes her a good goalie is that she doesn’t follow steps, she just reacts to the ball,” said Cooper of Shane who had nine saves, including some point blank stops down the stretch.

“She isn’t trying to think I have to step here or I have to step there, she just reacts and that makes a great goalie. Every game she rises to the challenge; her age is not a factor at all. It is ‘OK who are we playing, who are their best players, where do they shoot, OK, ready.’ That is her mentality.”

While Cooper was excited by the way her team rose to the challenge collectively against Allentown, she knows there is a lot of lacrosse still to be played this spring.

“It is a great win but we play them again and there is a chance that we will see them in the Mercer County Tournament,” added Cooper.

“So it is great to win but it doesn’t mean much in the long run. It means a lot to them right now and it feels really good. It will help propel us into the next half of the season but it doesn’t make or break the rest of the season.”

In Cooper’s view, PHS has the ability to do some special things in the second half of the season.

“I think we have a lot of potential because we play like a team,” asserted Cooper, whose team hosts WW/P-S on April 18, plays at WW/P-N on April 21, and then has a rematch at Allentown on April 23.

“We work from our goalie down to our lowest attackers; that’s really important. It showed today with different players stepping up when other players were getting marked. You need to be able to do that in a tight game like that.”

Lopez-Ona, for her part, believes the team’s special chemistry could make the difference in the tight games ahead.

“We have lost a lot of seniors; I think we knew this was going to be a whole new year with a mix of returning players and new players,” said Lopez-Ona.

“We all know how big of a role team chemistry off the field is. So I think that using that knowledge from last year, we are able to put it into place this year, and it is definitely helping. These are my best friends. I think we have got a team with a lot of young potential mixed in with some older leadership.”

WILL POWER: Princeton High baseball star Will Greenberg surveys the scene in action last spring. Senior catcher Greenberg has been swinging a hot bat for the Little Tigers, producing eight RBIs in four games last week as PHS went 2-2. The Little Tigers, now 2-6 on the season, are playing at Allentown on April 19, hosting Steinert on April 20, competing in the Papa Bear Invitational at Delran High on April 21, and then playing at Ewing on April 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After knocking in a total of four runs in two wins earlier last week, Will Greenberg kept up his hot hitting as the Princeton High baseball team hosted Trenton High last Wednesday.

The senior catcher smacked a two-run triple in the first inning to help PHS jump out to a 4-0 lead over the Tornadoes.

“It was an outside fastball and I just went the other way,” said Greenberg, reflecting on the triple.

“Luckily it went right down the line. It actually bounced on the line and bounced by the rightfielder. I was happy with it.”

By the end of the afternoon, though, Greenberg wasn’t too happy as the Little Tigers squandered their early lead and went down to a 6-5 defeat,

“We got a lot of runs in the first inning; we just weren’t able to keep going after that,” lamented Greenberg. “We thought it would hold up but it clearly wasn’t enough.”

After the Tornadoes tied the score at 4-4 in the top of the sixth, PHS got it going in the bottom of the frame as Matt Hoffman stroked an RBI single to put the Little Tigers back in front. But Trenton rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh to pull ahead.

Greenberg liked the way the Little Tigers battled after losing their lead. “We definitely didn’t want to lose this game,” said Greenberg. “We did show a little bit of fight to get that run in the sixth.”

In assessing the show he has been putting on offensively so far this season, Greenberg pointed to patience as a key factor.

“I think I am swinging at the right pitches and that is the difference right now,” said Greenberg. “Last year I might have swung at the 1-1 curveball and this year, I am taking it and hitting the next pitch.”

PHS’s large group of seniors has been making a difference in the early going as the Little Tigers topped Hightstown 3-1 on April 9 before routing crosstown rival Princeton Day School 13-3 a day later.

“We think with the group of seniors that we have this year, that we can win more games than we used to,” said Greenberg, whose classmates on the team include Hoffman, Nico Mercuro, Ben Harrison, Clay Alter, Alex Mitko, Mike Dunlap, and Nick Bowlin.

“We have been winning; the Hightstown and PDS games were pretty big for us. The win over PDS was amazing; it was the first time in a long time.”

PHS head coach Dave Roberts was concerned that his club could experience a letdown after the high of the victory over the Panthers.

“Yesterday was obviously a huge emotional game for us; now the one thing I made sure to remind them immediately after that game yesterday was that Trenton beat us last year,” said Roberts.

“We are not surprised at the fact that they are good and competitive. I was definitely concerned about this game.”

Those concerns proved valid as PHS appeared to lose intensity after grabbing the early lead against the Tornadoes, showing lapses in the field and on the basepaths.

“I thought we shut it down mentally after that and it really came back to haunt us,” said Roberts, whose team had another down day as it fell 6-2 to Hamilton last Monday in dropping to 2-6.

“We picked a bad time to play our worst defensive game. Our baserunning was pretty bad today. We got picked off at first; we got thrown out stealing. Things we hadn’t been doing this season.”

Roberts is depending on his crew of seniors to pick things up in the wake of the disappointing defeat.

“The seniors are carrying the load; they are doing a good job,” asserted Roberts, whose team is playing at Allentown on April 19, hosting Steinert on April 20, playing in the Papa Bear Invitational at Delran High on April 21, and then playing at Ewing on April 23.

“They are doing everything they are supposed to be doing, you can’t ask for much more. I just hope it continues going in the right direction and hopefully they guide these guys into realizing that today was just a bad day and that we can move forward.”

Greenberg, for his part, believes that PHS can use the lessons learned from the loss to keep going in the right direction.

“We had a lot of confidence going into this game,” said Greenberg, who knocked in two more runs in an 18-8 loss to Robbinsville last Friday.

“This game killed us and it can go either way after this. We can take it as something to make us play better or it can devastate us. Hopefully, it is not the second, You can’t stop playing; you can’t get four runs and think it is over and expect them to lay down.”

FREID UP: Princeton Day School baseball player Bradley Freid lays down a bunt in recent action. Junior Freid’s offensive production and play at catcher has helped PDS produce a 4-5 start. In upcoming action, the Panthers host Hun on April 18, play at Blair on April 20, play at Notre Dame on April 21, and then host Bound Brook on April 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It would have been easy for the players on the Princeton Day School baseball team to hang their heads last Thursday as they fell behind visiting Pennington.

Coming off a disappointing 13-3 loss to Princeton High the day before, PDS found itself trailing Pennington 5-0 going into the bottom of the fourth inning.

But the Panthers didn’t fold, breaking through with two runs in the fourth on a single by senior star Matt Cook. An inning later, PDS narrowed the gap to 5-4 on a two-run single by freshman JP Radvany.

In the sixth, the Panthers tied the contest as freshman Ross Colton served an RBI single into right field. An inning later, PDS kept threatening, getting a runner to second only to have him thrown out at the plate on a single by Sean McCoy.

The game went into extra innings and the Red Raiders tallied four runs in the top of the eight. Still, the Panthers didn’t give in, scoring on a single by senior Beau Horan who advanced to second but was stranded there as the Panthers went down to a 9-6 loss.

Afterward, PDS head coach Ray O’Brien was proud of the resolve shown by his club.

“I am happy with the way the kids hung in and the way they battled back,” said O’Brien.

“We are a work in progress; we have a lot of young guys. The guys battle; we were down 5-0 to a good team and we put the winning run on a couple of times. I am happy with their effort.”

O’Brien acknowledged that his team needs to pay more attention to detail.

“We are making too many little mistakes that are costing us those close games,” said O’Brien. “There is some stuff that we just have to tighten up.”

Last Friday, PDS tightened things up considerably, rolling to a 10-0 win over Lawrenceville as senior pitcher Jacob Eisenberg got the win and Horan chipped in three extra-base hits.

In O’Brien’s view, his group of seniors have the winning background to help get the Panthers on the right track.

“These guys played on a championship team so they know what needs to be done,” said O’Brien, who guided the Panthers to the state Prep B title in 2010.

“They know that we need a little tweaking here or there. They need to get some guys on board and we’ll be OK.”

The Panthers have some good young guys in the freshman quartet of Ross Colton, Jake Alu, JP Radvany, and Cole McManimon.

“They are playing and they are helping,” said O’Brien, whose team went on to lose 13-3 to Gill St. Bernard’s last Saturday to move to 4-5.

“Ross Colton had a big hit today. Jake [Alu] finished the game today on the mound. He did a great job; he battled the whole time. JP Radvany is our starting first baseman and Cole is one of our main pitchers.

With PDS having already matched last year’s win total when it went 4-14, O’Brien is confident the team can produce a good finish.

“It is definitely a different situation than last year,” said O’Brien, whose team hosts Hun on April 18, plays at Blair on April 20, plays at Notre Dame on April 21, and then hosts Bound Brook on April 23.

“We just need everybody pulling the rope in the same direction. We are getting there.”

RUNNING INTO TROUBLE: Hun School baseball star Devan Birch shows his speed on the basepath in recent action. Hurt by some key injuries, Hun has gotten off to a slow start this spring, falling to 1-6 in the wake of a 10-4 loss to Rutgers Prep last Monday. The Raiders will look to get on the winning track when they play at Princeton Day School on April 18 and at Pennington on April 19 before hosting Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) for a doubleheader on April 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Hun School baseball team, a couple of injuries have put a cloud over a promising spring.

The Raiders lost senior star catcher and key hitter Gavin Stupienski to a shoulder injury in the second game of the season while junior pitching ace Austin Goeke has been working through some arm problems.

As a result, Hun head coach Bill McQuade has been forced to juggle his batting order and his pitching rotation.

“When we lost Stupienski, it takes our No. 2 or 3 hitter out of the lineup and it takes a very good catcher out,” said McQuade.

“Goeke has had some arm struggles and he hasn’t pitched much for us this year so that backs everyone else up. It leaves Alex Fabian and Mike Manfredi for league games. Some kids that haven’t pitched much get other games and if they throw strikes and we catch the ball, we are fine. Sometimes we don’t throw strikes very well or catch it very well so it puts pressure on the whole team in different ways.”

Hosting powerful Germantown Academy (Pa.) last week, things didn’t go well for Hun right from the start. The Raiders fell behind 4-0 in the top of the first inning and never got closer than that on the way to suffering a 14-3 loss. “I told the guys we had to play a perfect game to beat them,” said McQuade.

“They are better than us in a few of the positions and that is OK. I just wanted to see us compete, that’s all.”

The Hun players did keep chattering in the dugout as the game went on and senior star Dave Dudeck gave his teammates something to cheer about with an RBI single in the third and a titanic homer over the left field fence in the sixth.

“Dudeck just crushes it and he has matured as a hitter,” said McQuade. “He is waiting more on the pitch so he can hit the off speed as well as the fastball.”

The Raiders will need to mature quickly if they are to get on the right track. “It is a tough start and our schedule is hard,” said McQuade, whose team lost 10-4 to Rutgers Prep last Monday in dropping to 1-6.

“We have seven games in the next week and a half and the teams we are playing are good. Our schedule is far tougher than in recent years but it doesn’t matter. I would rather play good teams and I think the kids would rather play tough teams. It starts to test them to see how much they actually love the game and how good they are compared to other teams.”

In McQuade’s view, the focus going forward is basic. “Our goal is just to get better by the end of the year, similar to last year,” said McQuade, referring to 2011 when Hun rode a late surge to state Prep A championship.

“Our pitching staff is fairly inexperienced; they have to grow so we can compete when tournament time comes around in May.”

Hun has the right mentality to keep competing hard. “I think this is a good group of kids; they play the game to win,” said McQuade, whose team plays at Princeton Day School on April 18 and at Pennington on April 19 before hosting Mercersburg Academy (Pa.) for a doubleheader on April 21.

“If the other team is better than us, so be it. We just need to have fun and compete.”

April 11, 2012

NICKED UP: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Nick Fernandez heads up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore defensive midfielder Fernandez scored his first career goal but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 10-9 at Syracuse. Princeton, which dropped to 6-3 with the defeat, was slated to host Rutgers on April 10 and Dartmouth on April 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming off a 13-2 rout of Brown, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team picked up where it left off as it played at Syracuse last Saturday.

The Tigers jumped off to a 3-0 lead before a crowd of 4,629 in the Carrier Dome on goals by Mike MacDonald, Tucker Shanley, and Tommy Schreiber.

“It was absolutely the way we wanted to start,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates.

“They started a freshman goalie [Bobby Werdwell] who had never played a college game before and that may have been part of it. They struggled covering us. They jumped into a zone because they weren’t matching up well with us.”

That adjustment helped turn the matchup into the latest classic of the storied series that has seen the programs meet in four NCAA championship games and play a number of regular season thrillers.

With Princeton suddenly having trouble clearing the ball out of its defensive end, the Orange rallied to cut the deficit to 5-4 at halftime.

“We had the ball twice in the second quarter,” lamented Bates. “Clearing was the name of the game. They put pressure on us and we didn’t handle it with poise.”

In the third quarter, Princeton regained its poise, outscoring the Orange 2-1 to take a 7-5 lead. But then the roof fell in on Princeton as Syracuse struck for four straight goals in the waning moments of the quarter to go ahead 9-7.

“The last 1:45 was backbreaking; you want to save a timeout for fourth quarter but maybe should have taken it then to slow them down,” said Bates.

“Syracuse plays the way they play. They go on runs and it is a game of momentum.”

While Princeton regained the momentum early in the fourth quarter with two unanswered goals, Syracuse scored with 4:11 left in regulation and hung on for a 10-9 victory.

“We came back and got two goals to tie it up,” said Bates, whose team fell to 6-3 overall as its four-game winning streak got snapped.

“Then there was a clearing error and they made a transition play for their 10th goal. We didn’t execute well after that. We had it a couple of times and threw the ball away. Our extra man opportunity didn’t generate anything. On the last possession, we didn’t run the play the way we should. We weren’t balanced. We got the ball to Tommy [Schreiber] but we didn’t space it right.”

In Bates’s view, the Tigers gave the Orange attack a little too much space. “We got away from some things defensively in wins over Penn and Brown,” said Bates, whose team was outshot 40-28 on the day and made 19 turnovers with Syracuse only committing eight.

“We have not been riding as much. We need communication and intensity on our rides; we need to get back to basics there.”

In the wake of the Syracuse loss, the Tigers took care of some basics in training as they prepared for a big week which included a home clash with Rutgers for the Meistrell Cup slated for April 10 before an Ivy League contest against visiting Dartmouth (2-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 14.

“To put a positive spin on things, we had really good practices on Easter night and on Monday,” said Bates, whose team is ranked 13th nationally and 3-0 in league play, locked in a battle atop the Ivies with No. 5 Cornell (8-1 overall, 4-0 Ivy).

“I hope it is eye-opening. This is a loose group; we need an attention to detail and focus on a daily basis.”

ARMED FORCE: Princeton University softball player Kelsey VandeBergh whips the ball to first base in recent action. Senior third baseman VandeBergh came up big last weekend as the Tigers went 3-1 in doubleheaders at Yale and Brown, pounding out two homers with five RBIs. In upcoming action, Princeton, now 9-20 overall and 5-3 Ivy League, hosts LaSalle (6-26 overall) for a doubleheader on April 12 before two critical home doubleheaders against Ivy rival Penn (20-13 overall, 5-3 Ivy) on April 14 and 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In 2011, the Princeton University softball team got off to a 4-4 start in Ivy League play only to go into a tailspin that saw it lose nine of its last 12 league contests.

This spring, Princeton has gotten off to a similar start in league play, posting a 5-3 mark after going 3-1 last weekend by sweeping a doubleheader at Yale on Friday before splitting a twinbill at Brown the next day.

As Princeton head coach Trina Salcido assesses her club, she doesn’t believe last year’s history is going to repeat itself.

“I think we are peaking at the right time, the No. 1-to-6 hitters are solid and we are starting to get help from the 7-8-9 hitters,” said Salcido, whose team is 9-20 overall and will host a doubleheader against LaSalle on April 12.

“The two junior pitchers (Liza Kuhn and Alex Peyton) are clicking and they are working well with both of our younger catchers (freshman Cara Worden and sophomore Maddie Cousens). I am really pleased with that. I feel the confidence level is better than last year.”

The Tigers came out confidently against Yale, scoring a pair of runs in the second and fourth innings to take a 4-1 lead.  Princeton tacked on two more runs in the seventh on the way to a 6-3 victory. In the nightcap, the Tigers jumped out to leads of 3-0 and 6-2 and held off the Bulldogs to post a 6-4 win.

“We started well at Yale,” said Salcido, who got two hits apiece from Kelsey VandeBergh, Tory Roberts, and Cousens in the opener with Peyton going 3-for-4 in the nightcap. “We hit in multiple innings; that builds confidence.”

The Tigers carried that confidence into the opener at Brown, pounding out eight hits with VandeBergh and Roberts each getting two RBIs in a 6-5 win, which saw Princeton score two runs in the top of the seventh to fight back from a 5-4 deficit. In Game 2, the Tigers had nine hits but couldn’t string together a big rally as they lost 2-1 in 11 innings.

“We closed out the first game at Brown; we could have done better in the second game,” said Salcido.

“Neither team scored until the 10th inning. We had opportunities all the way through. We talk about focus all the way through, you can’t wait until the late innings. There has to be a sense of urgency to get on the board first. When you let someone hang around, anything can happen.”

“Our two seniors have done a great job, leading by example,” asserted Salcido.

“They are taking full advantage of every inning of every game. They come out and work hard everyday in practice. They are not letting any moment slip away.”

While Salcido feels that her club has let a couple of wins slip away in Ivy play, she is not dwelling on what might have been.

“I would love to be sitting square with Cornell at 7-1; at 5-3, we have lost a little bit of control over things,” said Salcido, whose team is tied with Penn for second place in the Ivy’s South Division behind Cornell.

“The control we do have is to take one game at a time and not look at the big picture. We have to play our game. The hitters need to make adjustments and the pitchers need to stay sharp.”

The Tigers will need to be sharp this weekend as they host critical doubleheaders against Penn (20-13 overall, 5-3 Ivy) on Saturday and Sunday.

“They have a great freshman pitcher,” said Salicido, referring to Alexis Borden, who is 12-4 with a 1.43 ERA.

“They do a good job of really getting up for Ivy divisional play; you know that they are always going to be great competitors.”

HIT PARADE: Princeton High softball star Marisa Gonzalez makes contact last Wednesday in PHS’s 13-7 loss to Hopewell Valley. Junior outfielder and tri-captain Gonzalez had a big day in a losing cause, pounding out three hits with a homer and three RBIs. Last Monday, Gonzalez kept up her hot hitting with a double and a single as PHS topped Hightstown 7-2 to improve to 2-2. In upcoming action, the Little Tigers host Trenton High on April 11, play at Robbinsville on April 13 and at Allentown on April 14, and then host Hamilton on April 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the last two seasons, Marisa Gonzalez has been an offensive catalyst for the Princeton High softball team from the leadoff spot in the batting order.

But this spring, Gonzalez has been moved to the third spot to take advantage of a hitting prowess that saw the outfielder hit an eye-popping .592 last spring.

Last Wednesday against visiting Hopewell Valley, the junior star paid dividends in her new role, pounding out three hits with a homer and three RBIs. Gonzalez’s heroics weren’t enough, though, as the Little Tigers fell 13-7 to the Bulldogs.

While disappointed by the loss, Gonzalez believes she can do damage from the middle of the order.

“I think it is good for the team,” said Gonzalez. “We know that Louise [Eisenach] and Hannah [Gutierrez] can get on base ahead of me. I can drive them in and that can put us up in the beginning of the game.”

In the loss to HoVal, PHS played well in the beginning as the teams were deadlocked at 1-1 through four innings. The Bulldogs broke the game open with three runs in the top of the fifth and seven more in the sixth.

Trailing 11-2 in the seventh, the Little Tigers showed some fight with a five-run uprising which saw Gonzalez contribute a 2-run single.

“I think it was good that our energy was up,” said Gonzalez, reflecting on the rally. “We have to come out like that in the beginning instead of when we get behind and try to chase back.”

In Gonzalez’s view, PHS has the ability to come out with a better result against a team like HoVal

“I think we should have won this game; I know we are a good team,” said Gonzalez. “Once a few errors start being made, it just has this snowball effect. If we make the plays and pick each other up, we’ll be fine.”

Growing into a team leader, Gonzalez is taking more responsibility this spring for picking up her teammates.

“I am a captain this year so I am taking more of a leadership role,” said Gonzalez, who showed leadership last Monday, getting two hits as PHS topped Hightstown 7-2 to improve to 2-2. “At practice, I have been helping out girls with stuff. The focus is not on me, it is more a focus on the team. “

PHS head coach Dave Boehm likes the way Gonzalez is helping the Little Tigers from the middle of the order.

“Marisa is our sparkplug,” said Boehm. “We have to bat her third so she can drive in runs. We have put some people in front of her who can get on base.”

Boehm was frustrated that PHS didn’t do a better job of getting people on base against HoVal.

“We have faced better pitchers and have hit better,” said Boehm. “I thought we just didn’t do it today. We just have to hit.”

In Boehm’s view, better days are ahead for the Little Tigers. “We have that one bad inning and unfortunately it plays on you,” said Boehm, whose club hosts Trenton High on April 11, plays at Robbinsville on April 13 and at Allentown on April 14, and then hosts Hamilton on April 16.

“I think they realize that they are a better team than they played today. We haven’t come around yet; hopefully it will happen soon.”

Gonzalez, for her part, is confident that PHS will come around as the spring unfolds.

“We all know we can do it,” asserted Gonzalez. “It is just the focus that really should improve. We need to tighten up our defense a little more and we have to get our bats going. I think we’ll be fine.”

FAST EDDIE: Princeton High boys’ tennis star Eddie Percarpio chases down a ball in action last season. Senior Percarpio is moving up to first singles this season after playing at No. 2 last year. PHS starts its 2012 campaign by hosting Trenton on April 11 and Hopewell Valley on April 12 before playing at Robbinsville on April 13. The Little Tigers will then start play in the Mercer County Tournament on April 16 at Mercer County Park. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sarah Hibbert has put together an intriguing combination in crafting her lineup this spring for the Princeton High boys’ tennis team.

“It is a mixed bag,” said PHS head coach Hibbert. “We have three seniors at singles but also three freshmen in doubles.”

In Hibbert’s view, that mix could yield something special. “We have the potential to do good things; it is a matter of getting people settled in their positions,” said Hibbert, who guided the Little Tigers to a 15-3 season in 2011 and a spot in the Central Jersey Group 3 sectional semifinals. “We looked very competitive in scrimmages against Lawrenceville and Princeton Day School.”

Hibbert is confident that senior Eddie Percarpio will be competitive at first singles, as he moves up from No. 2 and switches positions with classmate Robert Zhao.

“Eddie relaxed a little more this year; he is ready to accept the position of being No 1,” said Hibbert, whose team starts its 2012 campaign by hosting Trenton on April 11 and Hopewell Valley on April 12 before playing at Robbinsville on April 13.

“He is definitely a fighter. He works hard for every point; he never gives up. He has moved up every year; it good to have him leading the charge.”

It should be good for PHS to have Zhao at No. 2 after his time at first singles.

“The experience he got at first singles should help him have a successful season at No. 2,” said Hibbert.

“He is really solid on his ground strokes. While he seems relaxed on the court, he can fight when it matters most. He won a 16-14 tiebreaker that clinched the Lawrenceville scrimmage.”

The third senior at singles is Julian Edgren, who will hold down the No. 3 spot.

“Julian has worked really hard on his game,” said Hibbert. “He had a close challenge match with Rob. He will rise to the level of his opponent.”

The first doubles pair of senior Kevin Qiu and freshman Adib Zaidi should give PHS some high-level play.

“Qiu and Zaidi are friendly with each other,” said Hibbert. “Adib has a strong serve and good ground strokes. Kevin has been on doubles the past two years and has experience. The two of them play well together.”

At second doubles, Hibbert has matched up freshmen Tyler Hack and Rishab Tanga, due in part to the chemistry they have already developed.

“Hack and Tanga played a lot together in the preseason and they complement each other,” added Hibbert.

“One guy can tell what they other guy is going to do before he does it; they communicate well. They may not be battle-tested but it is important to be confident in your partner. They seem to work well together; they bring out the best in each other.”

If the PHS players can bring out their best on a consistent basis, the Little Tigers could be championship contenders.

“I would like to see us challenge for county and sectional titles,” said Hibbert, whose team will start play in the Mercer County Tournament on April 16.

“We’ll see how it goes when we get into matches; we have to see what the other teams have. I definitely think the doubles playing well is a key and having everyone contribute. We need three people to step up to every match and it could be different people in different matches.”

After presiding over a rebuilding season last spring in his first year at the helm of the Princeton Day School boys’ tennis team, Will Asch liked the way the Panthers started the 2012 season.

Facing Notre Dame in its season opener on April 3, the Panthers breezed to a 5-0 win over the Fighting Irish.

Asch is hoping the win will be a harbinger of good things to come as the program looks to bounce back from a 3-6 campaign.

“Everybody played well, everybody was happy,” said Asch. “We have some seniors and quite a few good young players. We don’t have any superstars but we have a very solid team.”

In Asch’s view, sophomore first singles player Neeraj Devulapalli has the potential to develop into a star.

“Neeraj is a very good striker of the ball,” said Asch. “He hits the ball hard and has a good serve. He has played a lot of tennis; has done a lot of USTA Middle States tournaments. He may not be able to beat the best players in the area right now but he can compete with them.”

The Panthers have some good competitors vying for its two other singles spots. “Our No.1 is clearly No. 1 but the three next guys have all beaten each other,” noted Asch, whose team got beaten in its second match, falling 3-2 to Pennington last Thursday.

In the first two matches, Asch used sophomore D.J. Modzelewski at second singles and senior James Sanderson in the third spot.

“D.J. is a very tough competitor; he has worked hard on his game,” said Asch.

“He played No. 3 for us last year so he has experience. He is a very good listener and learner; he is a good student of the game. Sanderson played JV as a freshman and sophomore; he wasn’t on the team last year. He is a very good athlete. He has physical maturity as a senior; he is fast and strong. He doesn’t have the most beautiful strokes but they are effective.”

Battle-tested senior Matt Kilgore figures to see action at singles as well. “Matt is hurt right now; rolled his ankle on a tennis ball,” said Asch.

“He played a lot of tennis when he was younger. He is a very good player who hits the ball hard; he is a really nice player.”

The Panthers boast a nice pair at first doubles in junior Peter Kilbourne and senior Jason Hirsch.

“Peter is our best net player; he has a very good overhead and he is good at volleying,” asserted Asch.

“Jason is a very strong baseliner; he is a lefty and that gives people trouble. They have played together for a year so that is a big help. They understand each other on the court.”

Against Notre Dame and Pennington, PDS had the pair of Kunaal Patade and Adam Straus-Goldfarb at second doubles although Asch said others may get a chance at that slot. “There are a lot of kids close to each other; we’ll see how that plays out,” said Asch.

The Panthers have the right mentality to play some very good tennis this spring, according to Asch.

“I have some kids who really want to work hard,” said Asch, whose team has matches at Hun on April 11 and at Rutgers Prep on April 13 before starting play in the Mercer County Tournament on April 16 at Mercer County Park.

“The chemistry of the team is very good; that is the most important factor. The kids are working hard on conditioning.”

BIG BEN: Hun School boys’ lacrosse player Ben Schenkman looks to clear the ball in recent action. Senior defenseman and tri-captain Schenkman’s fine play on the back line has helped Hun produce a 2-1 start. In upcoming action, Hun hosts Pennington on April 12 and Voorhees on April 14 before playing at Princeton Day School on April 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Change has been the theme this spring for the Hun School boys’ lacrosse team.

Don Green has taken the helm of the program as its new head coach and is guiding a squad that is working in a number of new faces.

“We are young experience-wise and age-wise and there might be bumps along the way,” said Green, the replacement for Tom Kelso, who led the Raiders to a 9-8 record last spring “There is a lot of room for growth; they have a real willingness to learn.”

The Raiders have already shown growth this spring, bouncing back from an opening day 14-2 loss to Chestnut Hill (Pa.) to beat Blair 14-7 on March 31 and then top Academy of New Church (ANC) (Pa.) 12-3 last Thursday.

“We had a good effort at both ends of the field against ANC; the guys are learning how to put together a complete game,” said Green, who was the head coach of the Montgomery High boys’ lax team the last two years.

“The win over Blair gave us confidence that we can win. The guys are starting to play together.”

The team’s senior captains, Mark Burke, Iain Alexandridis and Ben Schenkman, have played a key role in holding the team together.

“They are providing good leadership; they are really supportive of the young guys,” said Green, referring to his trio of senior captains. “You know that the young guys are going to make mistakes and they are there for them.”

Attackman Alexandridis and midfielder Burke have been sharing the playmaker role for the Raiders.

“Iain and Mark handle the ball; they run the offense,” said Green, who got four goals from Burke in the victory over ANC with Alexandridis chipping in four assists. “The younger guys are in catch and shoot mode.”

One of the team’s top young guns is freshman attacker Brendan Black, who had five goals in the win over Blair and then added one in the win over ANC.

“Black is a smaller guy,” said Green. “He’s good off the ball; he knows when to cut and when to go to the net.”

Junior Zach Bicho has been helped to control the ball in the midfield. “Bicho has been really good the last two games,” said Green, noting that freshman Jameson Demarco has also been producing in the midfield.

“He has been dominating face-offs and getting us possession. He has been putting up some points as well.”

On defense, senior star Schenkman is emerging as a dominant force. “Ben just plays hard all the time; he has a great motor,” asserted Green. “He gives us leadership by example; he motivates the other kids to play hard.”

Green points to Cameron Dudeck and Greg Flood as other defensemen who have been influenced by Schenkman.

“Cam Dudeck is a sophomore; he is a future star,” added Green. “Greg Flood, a junior defender, is also very good.”

At goalie, sophomore Matthew Bruno has the potential to be another future star. “Bruno has great promise as a sophomore,” said Green, who is using senior Alex Gunstensen as backup goalie. “His quickness is the main thing; he really gets to the ball.”

Green believes that his players have quickly adapted to his approach. “It has worked out really well; the guys are very optimistic,” said Green, who started the spring as the assistant coach to Steve Bristol before the two swapped positions.

“It is a great group of people; there is a great chemistry. The older guys have gone far beyond what I have seen before in terms of helping the younger guys.”

If the team continues its sharp learning curve, Hun could do some great things this spring.

“By the end of the year, I want to have everybody thinking for themselves and making their own decisions out there,” said Green, whose team hosts Pennington on April 12 and Voorhees on April 14 before playing at Princeton Day School on April 17.

“We have to learn to be more hard-nosed and continue with the good chemistry. I would like to be silent on the sideline because they know exactly what they need to do.”

SHORT STORY: Hun School softball player Julia Blake makes a play last Wednesday in Hun’s 7-3 loss to visiting Blair Academy. Freshman shortstop Blake contributed an RBI single in the loss, which left Hun at 1-2. The Raiders will look to get on the winning track when they host Princeton Day School on April 11 and then play at Lawrenceville on April 13 and Episcopal on April 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The pitchers dominated in the early stages last Thursday as the Hun School softball team hosted Mid-Atlantic Prep League (MAPL) rival Blair Academy.

The squads were locked in a scoreless duel through two innings with Hun’s Kristen Manochio producing the only hit in the contest.

In the top of the third, however, the tone of the game changed as Blair broke the ice by scoring three runs. The Raiders answered back with two runs in the bottom of the frame as Joey Crivelli and Julia Blake stroked RBI singles.

The Buccaneers, though, regained the momentum, scoring four runs in the top of the fourth. Hun added a run in the bottom of the fifth but neither team scored after that as Blair hung on for a 7-3 victory.

As Hun head coach Kathy Quirk reflected on the loss, she said the game turned on Blair’s aggressiveness at the plate.

“They did one thing that we didn’t — they hit the ball,” lamented Quirk, whose team dropped to 1-2 with the loss.

“We just didn’t hit the ball. We practice everyday, saying do this and do that. If you can’t transfer it into a game, you are not going to win games.”

Quirk was heartened by how her team battled back with its rally in the bottom of the third.

“I thought we ran well; we capitalized on their errors,” said Quirk. “We played the small game and then we got too far behind to play the small game. It is one step forward and one step back.”

The trio of junior star catcher Carey Million, junior third baseman Crivelli, and freshman shortstop Blake played well in the loss to Blair.

“It is good to have Million back behind the plate,” said Quirk, noting that her talented catcher has been dealing with a hand injury.

“Crivelli gave us a little spark. She bunted the ball and got on base; that is what she does. I was very pleased with Julia Blake defensively. I am expecting more from her offensively; she has been hitting the ball.”

While Hun is likely to hit some bumps in the road this spring, Quirk is expecting the Raiders to develop into a formidable club.

“We will keep working on the offense and hitting and finding the right combination,” said Quirk, whose team hosts Princeton Day School on April 11 before playing at Lawrenceville on April 13 and Episcopal on April 16.

“We’ll get better each game. We have only one senior and the rest are young. We are going to take lumps.”

April 4, 2012

IN THE SWING: Princeton University baseball star Alec Keller prepares to swing in a game earlier this season. Sophomore Keller has emerged as a star for the Tigers this spring, currently hitting a team-high .425. Last weekend, Princeton got its Ivy League title defense off to a strong start, going 3-1 as it split a doubleheader against Dartmouth on Saturday and then swept Harvard in a twinbill on Sunday. The Tigers, who improved to 9-10 overall and 3-1 Ivy, play doubleheaders at Yale on April 7 and at Brown on April 8. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

As a freshman last spring, Alec Keller was part of the supporting cast for a Princeton University baseball team that came through with the Ivy League title.

Adjusting to college baseball and dealing with some nagging injury issues,  infielder/outfielder Keller produced a solid debut season, hitting .297 with 27 hits, 13 runs, and three doubles.

Looking forward to his sophomore campaign, Keller had the feeling that he could assume a leading role for the Tigers.

“Coming into this year, I knew the ropes a little bit more,” said Keller. “I was more prepared and more confident that I could do certain stuff. I feel a lot healthier so that’s definitely been big. I had some back problems last year.”

A month into the 2012 season, Keller has been doing some big things for the Tigers, batting a team-high .425 and piling up 31 hits.

Last Sunday, Keller’s hot bat helped Princeton sweep a doubleheader from visiting Harvard. In a 4-1 win in Game 1, Keller went 1-for-4 with an RBI. In the nightcap, Keller had three hits with a run and an RBI to help Princeton to a 12-6 win as it improved to 9-10 overall and 3-1 in Ivy League play.

In assessing the wins over Harvard, Keller noted that it took a while for the the Princeton bats to get rolling.

“We kind of fell into a lull in the first game today but Matty [Bowman] picked us up on the mound and we scraped it across,” said the 6’1, 185-pound  Keller, a native of Richmond, Va.

“We have got to win those games when they come; that [good pitching] won’t always be there. In the second game, they were kind of down the line on pitching and we took advantage of that.”

While the Tigers started the weekend and the Ivy season by splitting with Dartmouth, Keller was satisfied seeing the Tigers scrape out a 3-1 weekend.

“We wanted to start 4-0 but Dartmouth is probably the best team we are going to face at this point,” said Keller, who went 2-of-7 in the twinbill against the Big Green as Princeton won 8-0 and then lost 8-2 in a rematch of the 2011 Ivy League Championship Series.

“Last year we dropped two to them in the regular season so we split this year. We have just got to come out next weekend and take advantage and hopefully take four.”

In Keller’s view, the Tigers are poised to build on last year’s reversal of fortune which saw Princeton win the Ivy title after having posted the worst record in the league in 2010.

“We had so many unproven guys; even though we knew we were talented, we didn’t how we would piece it together,” said Keller. “Now, we have more expectations than we did before because we know guys can do certain things so that helps.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley got the effort he expected from his players as they started their Ivy title defense.

“Every day you come out and every game is critical,” said Bradley, who is in his 15th season at the helm of the Tigers.

“We have had years where you lose by a game so every game that you play is important. We have always stressed to our teams the importance of being able to forget what happened the game before and we are at that point now.”

Putting the split to Dartmouth in the rear view mirror, Princeton took care of business on Sunday against the Crimson.

In Game 1, Princeton got enough out of the three hits and seven walks it generated to get the win as Matt Bowman was sparking on the mound, giving up six hits with nine strikeouts.

The Tiger bats exploded in the nightcap as Princeton pounded out 16 hits with senior star Sam Mulroy going 3-for-3, junior Steve Harrington getting three hits and three RBIs, freshman catcher Tyler Servais going 2-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs, and former Hun School star Mike Ford contributing two hits and two RBIs.

Bradley liked the way his team scratched out the win in the opener. “We took advantage, for some of our guys drawing walks is a good thing,” noted Bradley.

“We have had some stretches where we have been overly aggressive. We did what we needed to do to get on base and Matty Bowman was terrific on the mound.”

Noting that Keller, Mulroy, and Bowman have been carrying the Princeton offense this spring, Bradley was happy to see others get into the act in the second game.

“It was not just good for the team; it was good for those guys,” said Bradley.

“We had some guys who need to get going. It was good for Mike Ford. Tyler Servais is really showing us something; it is so nice having a switch hitter you can put in the middle of the lineup.”

It has been nice for Princeton to have Keller doing so well this spring in the lead-off spot.

“I think he has been healthy this year; he just had some minor little nagging injuries last season where he would play for a couple of days in a row and then we would have to sit him out,” said Bradley.

“He did a great job on his conditioning and working with our trainers and everything else where he has stayed healthy all year.”

With Princeton currently locked in a four-way tie with Columbia, Cornell, and Penn for first place in the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division, Bradley knows his squad faces a healthy challenge in its bid to repeat as league champions.

“I think the Ivy League is going to be very, very competitive like it always is,” asserted Bradley, whose club has doubleheaders this weekend at Rolfe Division foes Yale (6-17-1 overall, 0-4 Ivy) and Brown (4-16 overall, 2-2 Ivy).

“We have brought some really terrific new young coaches into the league and they are on our half. Brett Boretti (Columbia), John Cole (Penn), and Bill Walkenbach (Cornell) have really breathed a lot of energy into those programs and you can just see the starts that they have all gotten off to. It’s going to go down to the last Sunday. There is no doubt that it is going to be very competitive for everybody.”

Keller, for his part, believes Princeton can come out on top against its Ivy competition notwithstanding the pressure of being the defending champion.

“We know that teams are gunning for us,” said Keller. “We feel that if we bring our best and they bring their best, we are going to win. I don’t think the bull’s eye is going to affect us.”

SEEING RED: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads up the field last Saturday in Princeton’s 13-12 overtime loss to visiting Cornell. Junior midfielder Davis scored two goals in the defeat to the Big Red which saw the Tigers score two late goals to rally from an 11-9 deficit and force overtime. Princeton, now 4-4 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, plays at Temple on April 4 before hosting Yale on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Sailer wasn’t surprised to see her Princeton University women’s lacrosse team locked in a nailbiter against visiting Cornell last Saturday.

“Cornell has nine seniors out there; they have experience and they have had some good wins,” said Princeton head coach Sailer, whose team came into the day ranked 19th in the nation by the Inside Lacrosse media poll while the Big Red was No. 17. “So we were anticipating a competitive game and that is what we got.”

The evenly matched teams were tied 7-7 at halftime. Princeton edged ahead 9-9 with 7:37 into the second half but then gave up three straight goals to fall behind 11-9 with 6:23 left in regulation.

At that point, Sailer called a timeout to settle down her team. “I wanted to give them a little rest; we were doing a ton of running,” recalled Sailer.

“I wanted to give them a couple of plays that we were looking to run. We also talked about what we wanted to get into defensively if Cornell got the ball. We just wanted to get them organized and ready to go for the last six minutes. In lacrosse, you can score a lot of goals in six minutes. We weren’t worried but we knew we had to be prepared for what was coming up.”

The Tigers came up big over the last six minutes of regulation as Cassie Pyle and Sarah Lloyd found the back of the net to force overtime.

In the extra session, Princeton fell behind 13-11 but then got within one on a tally by Barb Previ. That turned out to be the last goal of the topsy-turvy battle as Cornell held on for a 13-12 victory.

“That is tough to go down two goals early in overtime but again it is nothing you can’t recover from,” said Sailer, whose team dropped to 4-4 overall and 2-1 in Ivy League play with the setback.

“We were able to get the one goal off of a nice play but then we just didn’t organize as well as we needed offensively and Cornell took away some of our top kids.”

Cornell’s top player, senior star Jessi Steinberg, made things tough on Princeton as she tallied four goals and an assist.

“We knew she is a quick kid; she has such a good stick,” said Sailer of Steinberg, the second-leading scorer in the Ivy League with 45 points.

“You try to prepare for it and what her moves are but she beat us a couple of times. There was a little missed communication and not getting to those low angle shots. She drops that stick and it is a really good move.”

Princeton senior star Pyle showed some good moves as she scored three goals and played a key role on the defensive end.

“I thought Cassie had a nice game; she came through for us on the attack end,” said Sailer, who got two goals apiece from Lloyd, Erin McMunn, and Charlotte Davis; with Previ, Mary-Kate Sivilli, and Jaci Gassaway each chipping in one tally. “She had a big job because she was guarding Steinberg and was able to get some goals of her own. She has been consistent; she is a tough kid.”

The loss to Cornell was particularly tough to swallow for Princeton, coming on the heels of a heartbreaking 9-8 defeat at Johns Hopkins on March 25 which saw the Tigers squander an early 4-1 lead.

“We have now lost four games by a total of six goals, two of them in OT,” said Sailer, whose team’s other setbacks include a 11-10 double overtime loss to Rutgers and a 12-9 defeat to Duke.

“So I said to the kids, that tells me two things. It means that we are right  there. We could be 8-0, we are competing in all of these games against all of these opponents. But we are just not making the plays when it happens and having the confidence in the clutch to pull out the win.”

In Sailer’s view, her players need to relax more in crunch time in order to start pulling out close games.

“We were talking about that a lot, there are just some things we can focus on in practice, putting them more and more in game situations,” said Sailer, whose team will look to get back on the winning track when it plays at Temple (7-4) on April 4 before hosting Yale (3-6 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 7.

“Just little things we will try and change. I just want the kids to remember that it really is just a game and you just have to go out and play. If you are afraid of what might happen then you are not going to be in a good mental state. You have to be willing to make plays and be the hero and risk being the goat. You have to be fearless and play strong.”

HEAVY DUTY: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity crew powers over Lake Carnegie last Saturday on the way to an opening day win over Syracuse and Georgetown. Princeton’s top boat covered the 2,000-meter course in 6:11.8 to top runner-up Syracuse by 6.7 seconds with Georgetown in third at 6:25.4. In upcoming action, the Tigers host the storied Childs Cup regatta on Lake Carnegie against Ivy League rivals Penn and Columbia. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

Greg Hughes wasn’t expecting anything fancy when his Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity started its 2012 regular season campaign by hosting Georgetown and Syracuse last Saturday on Lake Carnegie.

“I was looking for a good, simple, aggressive race,” said Hughes, who is entering his third year at the helm of the heavyweight program.

“We needed to get one under our belts. With so many young guys, they need to compete at the varsity level. We had five or six new guys in the boat. Last year, we had five or six guys who had been in the boat.”

The new kids looked alright as Princeton’s top boat covered the 2,000-meter course in 6:11.8 to top runner-up Syracuse by 6.7 seconds with Georgetown in third at 6:25.4.

“You never take a win for granted,” said Hughes, whose program posted a clean sweep as the second varsity, third varsity, and freshman eight all posted victories. “I liked what happened Saturday but we know we have a lot of work to do.”

Hughes knows that he has some work to do when it comes to figuring out the right combination for his top boat.

“I never set a deadline; it happens when it happens,” said Hughes. “With so many young guys in the mix, it is good to have an open-minded outlook. Guys are still developing.”

Senior captain Ian Silveira, who is a mainstay on the first varsity, has developed into quite a leader for the Tigers.

“Ian has been in the top boat the last few years and he has lots of experience outside of Princeton,” said Hughes of Silveira who has rowed for the U.S. at the U23 World Championships.

“He has raced at a high level; he is a sophisticated racer. He is very competitive and sets a good example.”

Juniors Mike Evans and Brian Wettach have also been setting a good example this spring for the program’s younger rowers.

“They were sophomores in the top boat last year,” said Hughes. “The lineup was largely organized so they could keep their heads down and do as they were told. It has been a transition for them this year. They need to be leaders but not overbearing. They are doing a good job, the younger guys are having a lot of fun with them.”

The Tigers are looking to have fun this Saturday as they host the storied Childs Cup regatta on Lake Carnegie against Ivy League rivals Penn and Columbia.

“It is the oldest cup race in collegiate rowing,” said Hughes, noting that Princeton and Penn have each now won 44 times since the regatta was first held in 1879 with the Tigers having triumphed the last two years.

“We are not usually thinking about history but it brings home the tradition of the sport and how special it is. It started in the 1870s so it is way bigger than we are. It is an exciting piece of the race; we have the chance to do something for those who have come before us.”

CATCHING ON: Princeton High catcher Will Greenberg returns the ball to the pitcher in a game last year. Greenberg is a leader of a large group of battle-tested seniors who are looking to improve on the 5-19 record PHS posted in 2011. The Little Tigers, who started their 2012 campaign by losing 10-0 to Notre Dame last Monday, host Hopewell Valley on April 4 before playing at Hightstown on April 9 and at Princeton Day School on April 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Dave Roberts is confident that he is on the same page with his players on the Princeton High baseball team as the squad heads into the 2012 season.

“This is a group that has only known me as the head coach,” said Roberts who is entering his fourth year at the helm of the PHS program.

“They know what I want and what I expect. They are focused. We have time to work on the fine points; we don’t have to worry about basics.”

PHS boasts a large group of battle-tested seniors as it looks to improve on the 5-19 record it posted in 2011.

“It is now or never for the seniors, they have been through it,” said Roberts, whose senior group includes Will Greenberg, Matt Hoffman, Ben Harrison, Nico Mercuro, Alex Mitko, Mike Dunlap, and Mike Manley.

“Four of them, Greenberg, Mercuro, Harrison, Hoffman, have been starters since they were sophomores.”

The PHS mound corps has been through a lot. “We have tons of experience; every single guy has varsity experience,” asserted Roberts, whose team started the season by losing 10-0 to Notre Dame last Monday.

“Alter had two wins and a save last year while Dunlap pitched 30 innings. Harrison had a rough year last year. As a sophomore he won two games; we are expecting a bounce back year from him. Rohit Chawla is outstanding; we could use him as a spot starter or in relief. Ellis Bloom pitched 10-12 innings last year; he comes right in from third base and warms up quickly. He pitches out of the stretch all the time; we like to use him in relief.”

Roberts likes his infield, which features Mercuro at shortstop, junior Matt Farinick at second base, and Harrison at first, in addition to junior Bloom at third.

“They are tight and sharp; they have had a very nice spring,” said Roberts, who also gets sharp play at catcher from Greenberg. “They are a good unit; I think they will be really good.”

The Little Tiger outfield is shaping into a good unit with Mitko on center field flanked by Hoffman in right and Manley in left.

“We have the same guys in center field and right field,” added Roberts. “Manley has stepped up as a senior; he was injured a lot as a junior.”

With run production figuring to be down across the board due to the less-lively BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats now being standard, PHS is looking to take advantage of its speed.

The top of the Little Tiger order is athletic with Bloom at leadoff, Mitko at No. 2, Hoffman in the three hole, Mercuro at cleanup, and Greenberg batting fifth.

“We have the same top five in the batting order as last year; the best thing is that they are our fastest guys and they can all steal bases,” said Roberts.

“We have really been working on our baserunning this spring. We have been working on hit and run, bunting, stealing bases. We are going to have to manufacture runs.”

In Roberts’ view, PHS could manufacture a lot of wins this spring. “I think we have real good potential,” asserted Roberts, whose team hosts Hopewell Valley on April 4 before playing at Hightstown on April 9 and at Princeton Day School on April 10.

“The focus is there; the guys have worked hard. Our success boils down to two things — can we be smart on the bases and can we produce enough runs. We don’t have strikeout pitchers but they throw strikes and I am confident we will play good defense. We have to do the little things on offense.”

Having so many veterans in his lineup gives Roberts the confidence that his team will take care of those little things.

“I think the experience factor will help us,” said Roberts, noting that the Little Tigers fell just short in a number of close games last spring.

“We have been there before in close games and I don’t think we should be tight in those situations this year.”

BEAU KNOWS: Princeton Day School baseball player Beau Horan is serious about having a big senior season. The star shortstop and team tri-captain, a top recruit for the highly-regarded Division III school Williams College (Mass.) and its baseball program, figures to be a key player for PDS as it looks to rebound from a 4-14 season in 2011. The Panthers, now 1-1 this spring after an 11-1 loss to St. Augustine last Saturday, will be hosting the Hill School (Pa.) on April 4, the George School on April 5, South Hunterdon on April 9, and Princeton High on April 10.

Working a bunch of new players into its lineup last spring, the Princeton Day School baseball team went through a transition phase.

After struggling to a 4-14 mark in 2011, the PDS players are primed to show what they learned from the tough spring.

“I think the mood is upbeat and the guys are excited about the season,” said PDS head coach Ray O’Brien.

The Panthers showed progress on their annual preseason trip to Florida in late March.

“We only had gym time and parking lot time before we went down to Florida because our field here wasn’t ready,” said O’Brien.

“We went 3-3 down there. The last game was official and we won 11-6 over Apollo Ridge High from Spring Church, Pa. I was pleased with the effort and attitude on the trip.”

In O’Brien’s view, the 2012 squad boasts good experience with an infusion of young talent.

“It is a good group of seniors,” said O’Brien, noting that three members of the Class of 2012, Jacob Eisenberg, Beau Horan, and Sean McCoy, are serving as team captains.

“We have four freshmen (Jake Alu, Ross Colton, JP Radvany, and Cole McManimon) who have come in and they are all going to make a contribution.”

PDS has several pitchers who should be able to make valuable contributions this spring as seniors Matt Cook, Tom Keegan, and Jacob Eisenberg together with junior Greg Auerbach and freshmen McManimon and Alu figure to get innings.

“Cook and Eisenberg were steady and gave us a lot of innings last year,” said O’Brien, whose club moved to 1-1 with an 11-1 loss to St. Augustine last Saturday and will be hosting the Hill School (Pa.) on April 4, the George School on April 5, South Hunterdon on April 9, and Princeton High on April 10.

“Greg Auerbach threw the ball well in Florida. I think we have three good arms at the top end of the rotation. Tom Keegan had an injury bug and we are hoping he can come around. We have some freshmen who can eat up some innings for us. Cole McManimon is a tall kid who is throwing well. Alu should also pitch.”

The pitchers will benefit from a strong infield which has been coming together nicely.

“We have Sean McCoy at third base; he is one of the senior captains and he is playing well,” said O’Brien.

“Beau Horan is another senior captain and he is looking very good; he should be one of the best shortstops in the area. He has played pretty much since his freshman year. He has committed to Williams College so it is good that he is settled. Ross Colton is doing a real nice job. He is fielding well and I think he will be able to hit some. We have another freshman, J.P. Radvany, at first base; he was probably our best hitter in Florida. Bradley Freid has one year of catcher under his belt,  we are looking for him to be better.”

PDS hopes to be better across the outfield as well. “We have B.J. Dudeck in center field again, he is playing well,” said O’Brien.

“We are looking at Cook in left field when he is not pitching. Rob Colton surprised us down in Florida; he did a good job. We will also use Alu out there.”

With the implementation of BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats this spring, which have a smaller “sweet spot” with balls coming off them more like wood, the PDS offense will look to manufacture runs.

“We have five proven hitters in Dudeck, McCoy, Horan, Cook, and Freid; we had good offensive numbers last year,” said O’Brien.

“I think the freshmen will make a contribution. We will have to go back to some small ball and scratch some runs across. We don’t have mashers so I think it works well for us.”

O’Brien is confident that things will go well this spring. “I think we have the potential to do well, if the pieces fall into place,” said O’Brien. “We will go as far as our pitching takes us. We are optimistic.”

THE RIGHT STUFF: Princeton Day School softball pitcher Dina Alter delivers the ball in a game last spring. Sophomore hurler Alter is showing maturity as PDS fights an uphill battle this spring with only nine players on the roster. The Panthers, now 0-2, are next in action when they host South Hunterdon on April 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was the top of the fifth inning last Thursday and the Princeton Day School softball team trailed 13-1 as it hosted Morrisville High (Pa.) in its season opener.

But PDS sophomore pitcher Dina Alter was still firing away, challenging the opposing batters as though she were locked in a nailbiter.

She retired two hitters on groundout and the Panthers got the third out in a rundown to post a shutout frame.

While the Panthers failed to score in the bottom of the inning to end up losing 13-1 under the 10-run mercy rule, first-year had coach Paul Lano came away from the game admiring the pluck of his young hurler.

“I think Dina stood up to the challenge of a good hitting team,” said Lano.

“She showed maturity and she is a 15-year old sophomore. It is nice to have a pitcher that hangs in there like that. I kept checking with her and she said she was fine. When we don’t make plays, the innings last longer than they should have. That can be frustrating for a pitcher but it didn’t faze her.”

The Panthers have hung in there collectively as the team only has nine players on its roster.

“They are happy to have a team,” said Lano. “I told them before the game, this is your team, this is it. We are nine strong and they won’t take no for an answer. We are going to go out and play and take on all comers.”

The Panthers got some good play from sophomore co-captains Jess Toltzis and Tess Zahn in the opening day setback. Catcher Toltzis was a rock behind the plate, throwing out several runners while shortstop Zahn made some sharp plays in the field and contributed a single and the team’s lone run offensively.

“Jessica proved today that she is a great defensive team leader and Zahn gives us a spark,” asserted Lano.

“The team’s leadership is in good hands. Both captains are very vocal and encouraging which is nice.”

The play of sophomore third baseman Mary Kate Flemming was also encouraging; she looked good with the glove and pounded out a double.

“She made a change with her hands at the plate and she belts one deep to centerfield,” said Lano. “The left side of our infield is very strong.”

Lano acknowledges that the Panthers have a strong challenge ahead of them this spring.

“We have a lot of work to do; we need to work on the fundamentals,” said Lano, whose infield also includes senior Lily Halpern at first and freshman Katie Alden at second with the outfield featuring junior Netesa Bland, senior Gabi Phillips, and freshman Sabrina Matlock.

“We have a defensive system and they have an understanding of it. It is different from what they are used to but as they get better at it they will execute better.”

With the pitching battery of Alter and Toltzis, the Panthers have the core in place to get better.

“We have the centerpieces to build the program around, that is the hard part,” said Lano, whose club dropped to 0-2 with a 16-4 loss at Pennington last Monday and is next in action when it hosts South Hunterdon on April 9. “We can add pieces around them.”

STEVIE WONDER: Hun School baseball star Stevie Wells takes a big cut in a game last spring. The powerful junior first baseman should provide plenty of punch in the middle of the batting order for the Raiders as they go for a second straight state Prep A title. Hun, now 0-1 this spring, hosts Blair on April 4, plays at Hopewell Valley on April 5, and then hosts Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In 2011, the Hun School baseball team saved its best for last.

Going through a 2-3 stretch in the middle of the season, the Raiders caught fire and rode that late surge to a state Prep A title.

“Last year we came out of nowhere; the kids played extremely well at the end,” said longtime Hun head coach Bill McQuade, whose team ended the spring with a 12-7 record.

“We did everything we needed to do. We caught the ball; we got good pitching and timely hitting.”

McQuade is confident that his squad can pick up where it left off last year. “Overall, I think we are a little better than we were at this point last year,” said McQuade, who is entering his 42nd year at the helm of the program. “Most kids are back and they are older and stronger.”

The Raiders certainly have some good kids at key defensive positions. “You always want to be strong up the middle,” said McQuade, whose team started its 2012 season with a 9-7 loss to Lawrenceville last Wednesday.

“We have Gavin Stupienski at catcher. We needed to replace Chris Leach and he has turned out to be very good there. We have Eddie Paparealla at shortstop. He played third base a little bit last year. He had a great summer and he has to come through. He has spectacular plays some games and then makes errors in others. He works his tail off. In center field, we have David Dudeck; he is such a competitor. He is fast and he has a good arm.”

In McQuade’s view, Dudeck’s work ethic sets a tone for the team. “Dave is workout-aholic; he is in here at 6 in the morning lifting weights,” said McQuade of Dudeck who is heading to Boston College this fall where he will be playing for the Eagles’ football program.

“We were leaving for our Florida trip on March 12 and I told the guys to report at 6 a.m. I get there at 5:30 and I see a bucket holding open the gym door. I go in there and he is hitting with his dad in the batting cage.”

McQuade is expecting some good work on the mound from star pitchers, junior Austin Goeke and senior Alex Fabian.

“Goeke has to be the ace; he is throwing harder than last year and has a better curve ball and is working on a change-up,” said McQuade.

“He really wants to be a pitcher. Fabian has come on too; he is still working on his control. He has been working out and his fastball is much stronger; his curveball is better. I love his attitude.”

Hun should have better depth at pitching this year with junior Mike Manfredi, freshman Jason Applegate, junior Christian Galkowski, senior Thom Browne, senior John Campbell, and junior Stevie Wells all having the chance to see action on the mound

“Mike Manfredi is going to get some innings; he pitched for us last year and helped at designated hitter and third base,” added McQuade.

“Jason Applegate is a freshman and he is going to be a player. He can pitch and will be competing for right field job. Christian Galkowski is a lefty junior transfer from Notre Dame; he wears big glasses and looks like the “Wild Thing” character from the Major League movie. He is an easygoing kid who gets people out. We have other kids who can throw strikes, Thomas Browne, John Campbell, and Stevie Wells can give us an inning here or there. We have six kids we can rely on.”

The Raiders have a solid infield upon which it can rely. “I have Stevie at first base; he can crush the ball and he is much better defensively,” said McQuade.

“He is a great kid; I can’t say enough about what kind of a person he is. I have Bailey Hammer at second. I told him to follow Dave Dudeck around. He starts going to the gym at 6 to lift weights and I see a difference in him in one week and how he is carrying himself. Brandon Smith is at third and has looked unbelievable in preseason. He has done everything we have asked of him. He is looking really good in the field and at the plate.”

In the outfield, Hun has some good players flanking centerfielder Dudeck, “Devan Birch in left field has tremendous speed,” said McQuade.

“He may even get a better jump on the ball than Dave. The two of them could cover the outfield on their own. Brett Forman and Campbell are also in the mix in right field.”

On offense, that team speed will come in handy as the Raiders figure to be playing more small ball this spring.

“With the BBCOR (Batted Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats, the ball doesn’t jump off the bats,” noted McQuade. “It is going to be like playing with wood bats, you can hear the difference. We will need to manufacture runs. We are focusing on baserunning and bunting runners along.”

While McQuade knows it will be tough to repeat as Prep A champions, he believes his squad has the pieces in place to produce another big spring.

“If it all comes together defensively, we could be very good,” said McQuade, whose club hosts Blair on April 4, plays at Hopewell Valley on April 5, and then hosts Germantown Academy (Pa.) on April 10.

“The pitching has to hold up; we need to be strong up the middle.  At the plate, we have to hit line drives and find gaps.”

WELL PLAYED: Stuart Country Day School lacrosse star ­­Ani ­Hallowell heads up the field in action last season. Senior attacker Hallowell figures to be a key offensive threat for the Tartans this spring. Stuart team opens its 2012 campaign by playing at Rutgers Prep on April 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a freshman at Notre Dame High in 2002, Caitlin Grant decided to give lacrosse a try.

Grant took to the game and went on to have a fine career for the Fighting Irish. She then played two years at The College of New Jersey.

After injuries ended her college playing career, Grant got involved in another phase of the game, becoming an assistant coach for the Notre Dame girls’ program while she was still a student at TCNJ.

“My freshman year at Notre Dame was the first year I touched the stick,” said Grant.

“I was lucky to have great coaches along the way, I have been taking in everything I have been taught.”

Now, Grant is applying those lessons as she takes the helm of the Stuart Country Day lacrosse program, ushering in a youth movement for a program in transition.

“We are a very young team,” said Grant, a 2010 TCNJ alum who is replacing Sara Wagner.

“We had our first scrimmage last week and we only had 12 girls. We were starting a lot of freshmen who have never played before.”

With so many lax neophytes, Grant is focusing on the basics. “It goes back to the basics, throwing and catching the ball,” said Grant, whose team opens its 2012 campaign by playing at Rutgers Prep on April 4.

“You don’t need fancy plays. You can have a simple offense, you need to do the core things right.”

The Tartans do have a core of veterans in the Hallowell sisters, senior Ani and sophomore Amy, together with senior Cat Reilly and junior Isabel Soto who have been stepping up.

“The few upperclassmen that we have are very good leaders, they keep the intensity up,” said Grant. “The kids are so coachable; they are sponges. We are learning from each other.”

Grant will be looking for the Hallowell sisters to trigger the offense with juniors Alaina Ungarini and Nicole Andrzejcyk helping out on attack.

The defensive wings will be Reilly and Soto with sophomore Meghan Shannon and a pair of freshmen, Isabel Lapuerta and Vidhi Raturi, playing low defense. Freshman Harlyn Bell is the starting goalie.

Even though Stuart is coming off a 2-10 season, Grant believes the Tartans can be competitive this spring.

“These girls have so much potential, they are picking things up fast,” asserted Grant.

“I am proud of their progress so far. There are a lot of good teams in the areas; everyone is so competitive. I think we can hang with those teams as long as we believe in ourselves.”

Grant believes the team’s success will come down to intensity and execution.

“The keys will be never giving up and being comfortable with ball on the stick,” said Grant.

“Communication on defense is huge. Talking really makes a difference, it keeps you on your toes and it disrupts the offense.

As Grant steps into the head coaching role, she is hoping to make a difference.

“I feel so lucky to have this position, I want us to come out with a bang,” said Grant.

“I want to build a strong program; I want us to be good so people will want to come and play here.”

March 28, 2012

OVERDUE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Alex Capretta heads up field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star Capretta tallied three goals and an assist, including the game-winning score, as Princeton edged Yale 10-9 in five overtimes. It was the longest game in the history of both programs. No. 11 Princeton, now 5-2 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League action, plays at Brown (3-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team dropped a 1-goal decision to North Carolina earlier this month, Chris Bates pointed to the Tigers’ lack of composure in the clutch as a decisive factor.

After that 9-8 loss to the Tar Heels on March 10, Princeton didn’t have a nailbiter in its next two contests as it cruised to wins over Penn and Villanova.

But last Saturday at Yale, the Tigers got ample opportunity to display their poise as they found themselves in a marathon pressure cooker for the ages as the rivals played into five overtimes, the longest game in the history of both programs.

Showing composure and persistence, Princeton outlasted the feisty Bulldogs as an Alex Capretta goal gave the Tigers a 10-9 win after 18:21 of overtime before 1,057 at Reese Stadium.

A relieved head coach Bates was proud of his team’s resolve as it improved to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League play while Yale dropped to 2-4 overall, 0-2 Ivy.

“We are happy to get away with a win and be 2-0 in the Ivy League but we still have room to grow,” said Bates.

“We can put that in our memory bank. We played with good poise. We executed in trying times. It is a good to win a game like that; it gives you confidence.”

At earlier points in the game, it looked like Princeton was going to win with ease. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first quarter, seemingly picking up where it left off from an impressive 11-4 win over Penn a week earlier.

“We started off well,” said Bates. “We were scoring goals in a flurry which is good. We got three relatively quick goals and then the game settled down.”

The teams went back and forth over the next two quarters with Yale outscoring Princeton 4-2 to make it a 5-5 game heading into the fourth quarter.

Once again, it looked like the Tigers seized the momentum as they reeled off a 4-1 run to take a 9-6 lead with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

“We had another little burst, Alex had two goals and Tucker [Shanley] had one,” recalled Bates.

But then showing the kind of lapse that plagued it earlier in the season, Princeton yielded three unanswered goals as Yale forced overtime.

“It was uncharacteristic of us,” said Bates, reflecting on the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

“They got one in transition and it was 9-7 and you could feel that the momentum shifted. They got some face-offs and scored. They are a good team.”

There were wild swings of momentum in the marathon extra session as the foes combined for 26 shots, seven turnovers, nine saves, and three extra-man opportunities.

“It was frenetic; each period had its own personality,” recalled Bates, whose team outshot Yale 18-8 in the overtimes and 49-38 on the day.

“We had some shots that I was sure were going in. There were a lot of penalties. They dominated one period; we only had possession for 20 seconds.”

In Bates’ view, it was fitting that Capretta notched the game-winner. “Finally at the end, Alex got one,” said Bates of Capretta, who had tallied three goals and an assist in the win, giving him 15 points so far this spring after scoring a total of 10 in his first three seasons.

“He had a good game; he is having a really good senior year. He is playing with poise and under control. It was good to see him get that one.”

The Tigers got a poised effort from senior star goalie Tyler Fiorito. “Tyler took the next step; he made two really big saves,” said Bates of tri-captain Fiorito, who made 13 saves in the game and now has a 7.29 goals against average this season. “There was one in the fourth overtime and one in the fifth. They were All-American saves to keep them from winning the game.”

Bates also tipped his hat to his defensive unit which features such standouts as senior tri-captains Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham together with classmate Jonathan Meters and sophomore Rob Castelo.

“It is always a work in progress: I think we have some of the most talented individuals in the country there,” said Bates. “But it comes down to how we communicate and operate as a unit.”

With 11th-ranked Princeton playing at Brown (3-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on Saturday, Bates is expecting another nailbiter.

“It is going to be a battle; we had a very close game with them last year (a 5-4 win in four overtimes),” said Bates. “Every Ivy game is up for grabs.”

But with Princeton developing an ability to stay cool under pressure, Bates likes his team’s chances.

“It is a pretty mature group; the leadership is solid and it is not just the captains,” said Bates.

“The guys are growing up. I think we have guys who want to step up and make plays. As evidenced Saturday, the guys are willing to take shots. You need the payoff and we are getting it.”

LIGHT WAVES: Members of the Princeton University men’s lightweight first varsity power to victory in action last spring. The Tigers’ top boat got its 2012 campaign off to a good start as it topped Navy last Saturday. In upcoming action, the Tigers host Columbia and Georgetown on March 31 at Lake Carnegie with the Fosburgh Cup on the line. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

The 2011 postseason left a bitter taste for a proud Princeton University men’s lightweight program that is used to performing its best when it matters most.

After having swept the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regattas in 2009 and 2010, the Tigers’ first varsity fell well short of a three-peat last spring, taking fourth at the Easterns and sliding to fifth at the IRAs.

While Princeton head coach Marty Crotty wants his returning rowers to learn from last year’s frustration, he is happy to have them put 2011 in the rear view mirror.

“These guys do a good job; they came in here in September and didn’t dwell on what happened,” said Crotty.

“Everybody knows the score. There were things that I got wrong and things beyond our control that led to underperformance. The coaches and individuals had conversations over the summer and put everything to rest. These guys are so driven, they are just looking to make this year’s team and varsity 8 as fast as possible.”

Last Saturday, Princeton’s top boat showed some good speed as it won its season opening regatta, topping Navy in Annapolis, Md., retaining the Joseph Murtaugh Cup in the process.

“I am more nervous about this than any race even though we are now 3-0,” said Crotty, whose top boat clocked a time of 5:57.2 over the 2,000-meter course on the Severn River with Navy more than five seconds behind in 6:02.5.

“You don’t know what to expect because it is the first race. You don’t know how fast you are going to be until they put a crew next to you that is racing for your shirts. The Navy guys are tough, gritty, and always race hard. The course is usually windy.”

Crotty liked the toughness his first varsity displayed as it pulled away to victory.

“We were waiting for something to happen; maybe that’s what suits this boat,” said Crotty.

“Between 300 and 800 meters, we were vulnerable. We made a great move after 800 meters. I got to see something I hadn’t seen, an acceleration they hadn’t shown. It ended up to be a very nice cushion.”

Princeton has seen some great stuff from senior star and team captain Gianthomas Volpe.

“He’s been great,” said Crotty of Volpe, a native of Naples, Italy who has competed for the Italian national program. “He is not very animated, not very vocal. He keeps a very even keel and he leads through his actions. The guys respect him for what he is producing.”

Another senior stalwart, Steven Cutler, has been producing for the Tigers. “Steve is extremely diligent; he is really into his rowing,” added Crotty.

“Like Volpe, he leads by example. He rowed with the U.S. U-23 team all summer. The results he gets performance-wise make him our best starboard rower.”

Two other seniors, Alex Rubert and Nick Bax, are apparently saving their best for last. “Alex is back after a year out of the varsity; he is having the type of year that makes me look bad for keeping him out,” said Crotty.

“Last year, he did fine but I had a lot of options. This year, he is doing everything to put him solidly in the first varsity. He is stronger than ever and he is really tall for a lightweight. We can do things with him that can give the boat speed. Nick is having a very consistent year. In the past, he was very athletic; he produced some good results but was injured a lot. He is illness and injury free this year.”

In Crotty’s view, the result last Saturday was encouraging as the Tigers look to regain their championship form. “Any time you are .01 second ahead and bring home the Murtaugh Cup, that is positive,” said Crotty.

“It is a good starting point. We have 5-6 weeks to work on fitness and gaining tactical proficiency. This crew is only going to get better.”

Princeton will need to get better this Saturday as it faces a big test when it hosts Columbia and Georgetown at Lake Carnegie with the Fosburgh Cup on the line.

“We need to be aggressive off the line and not give anything away,” said Crotty. “Then we need to get to base speed and get to work. In our league, most races are not settled until the last half. I like this group; they take care of business. I really enjoy coaching them.”

DAY BREAK: Princeton High boys’ lacrosse star Zach Halliday breaks into the open last week in a preseason scrimmage. Junior midfielder Halliday figures to be a key offensive force for the Little Tigers this spring. PHS opens the 2012 season by playing at Hopewell Valley on March 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Peter Stanton, coaching the Princeton High boys’ lacrosse team this spring is giving him plenty of teaching moments.

Losing a core of 10 players to graduation who led PHS to a 15-5-1 record in 2011 and an appearance in the Group III state quarterfinals, the Little Tigers are going with a bevy of untested performers.

“There is a genuine humility with this group of boys,” said Stanton, who is entering his 17th season at the helm of the PHS program.

“They know that they don’t know everything; they know they have a lot to learn.”

PHS will be expecting a lot from senior attackman Coleman Preziosi, who has learned to diversify his game.

“Coleman was a player for us last year who could shoot lefthanded,” said Stanton, whose team opens the 2012 season by playing at Hopewell Valley on March 31.

“He was the recipient of some great passes and he was a reliable finisher. This year, he can create a lot more. He has improved his dodging; he is a more complete player.”

Stanton believes he will see improved play from the rest of his attack unit which will include senior Nick Sandford, sophomore Matt Purdy, and junior Matt Olentine.

“Nick [Sandford] and Matt [Purdy] are doing a pretty nice job; they are sound players,” said Stanton. “Matt Olentine will get opportunities. We will mix and match.”

In the midfield, few can match the all-around contribution of senior star Kirby Peck.

“Kirby does a pretty good job on face-offs and he can defend,” said Stanton.

“He can create opportunities in transition and he is a good shooter. He is also giving us more leadership.”

The Little Tigers are also depending on senior Alex Rifkin and junior Zach Halliday to lead the way in the midfield.

“Alex Rifkin scored some crucial goals for us last year; he is a very good dodger,” said Stanton, who will also be using Pat McCormick, Matt Corrado, and Tyler Nkati in the midfield.

“He has improved his defending; he is better at riding and clearing. He is a more complete player. Zach has been the dirty work player for us in the past; he will be contributing more on offense this year.”

The PHS defense is a work in progress with the graduation of such stars as Dean DiTosto, Robby Dowers, Jack Miller, and Michael Irving.

“Jack Persico is doing a good job,” added Stanton. “Jackson Andres will also be involved. We have Jonah Glasgold, Anthony Tang, and Matt DiTosto back there.”

Stanton likes what he is seeing from senior goalie Elliot Wilson as he takes over for Griffin Peck.

“Elliot was really good in our scrimmage against Bergen Catholic,” said Stanton. “He has really good hand speed. He is also very fast, he can come out and get loose balls.”

If PHS is to maintain its winning ways, its young players will have to be fast learners.

“We have been pretty pleased with how we have done in scrimmages; we have competed favorably against some pretty good teams,” said Stanton.

“We don’t really know what this team’s potential is; it is a wait-and-see approach. The work rate is good; there is a steep learning curve. The boys are excited to learn the game together. We have to overcome experience; you do that with effort.”