SWINGING AWAY: Princeton Day School baseball player Jake Alu follows through on a swing. Senior star shortstop and Boston College-bound Alu has starred for the Panthers this spring, helping PDS produce a 5-4 start. In upcoming action, the Panthers are slated to host Lawerenceville on April 22, play at Gill-St. Bernard’s on April 23, host Chestnut Hill (Pa.) on April 25, play at Peddie on April 27, and at Steinert on April 28. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
It looked like it was going to be one of the memorable comebacks of the season for the Princeton Day School baseball team.
Trailing Hamilton 4-1 heading into the bottom of the seventh and final inning, Zach Dudeck and Jake Alu hit back-to-back singles to give PDS life. Dom Gasparro then hit a fly to center to score Dudeck. After a pop-out by JP Radvany, Cole McManimon lined the ball over the left field fence to apparently make it a 4-4 tie.
But the rally turned into one of the most bizarre endings seen in recent years as the umpire ruled that McManimon didn’t touch home plate and he was called out, giving Hamilton a 4-3 win, prompting howls of protest from the PDS players, coaches, and parents.
After expressing his disbelief over the call, senior shortstop Alu rued what might have been. “This game would be over by now, we had the momentum,” said Alu.
Taking a broader perspective, Alu focused on what the rally said about this year’s PDS squad.
“We keep fighting but we don’t give up, even if we are down 9-0,” said Alu. “We were down against Pennington the other day and I still saw a little bit of fire in the last inning. I see that we battle every inning, not just the important ones. I think we are going to keep dragging that into it each game and when the playoffs come.”
Alu showed that battling spirit in his final at-bat against Hamilton, working the count before lining a single up the middle.
“I knew that I just needed to get on base,” recalled Alu. “Nothing special, just any way I could get on, walk, hit, hit by a pitch, anything you can do to get on base.”
With PDS off to a 5-4 start after having gone 4-12 in 2014, Alu believes that veteran play has made the difference.
“We only had one senior last year and this year we have six seniors,” said Alu, whose classmates on the team include Sean Flahive, Cody Meagher, Davin Bialow in addition to Radvany and McManimon. “I think that we have a lot of experience.”
The team’s so-called Big 3 of Alu, Lehigh-bound McManimon, and Villanova-bound Radvany have experienced a lot over the last four years, starting for PDS from day one and serving as team tri-captains for a second straight season.
“We are always hanging out in school, messing with each other,” said Alu. “It is a bond. We all have the same aspirations and I think that really helps us motivate each other to keep getting better each day.”
Alu is looking to motivate his teammates to get better.
“I want to be a leader out there, when someone makes a bad play, you don’t get on them,” said Alu. “You have got to motivate, step up and make a play the next inning.”
On defense, Alu is making the plays at shortstop, teaming with junior second baseman Sam Guarino to give the Panthers strength up the middle in the infield.
“I think our defense is better than ever, Sam and I have been playing there for three years,” said Alu. “We have a good bond together; we know what each other is going to do.”
Looking ahead to college, Alu is confident he will develop bonds with his future Boston College teammates.
“It was between Maryland, Boston College, and Pitt; I was looking at their schools,” said Alu.
“I really liked BC. I feel like I fit in with the players. I feel like I could go right in there and act like I knew the guys for years.”
PDS head coach Ray O’Brien hated to see his guys get denied the chance to beat Hamilton.
“We just got to say something on the kids’ behalf,” said O’Brien with his voice rising in anger.
“An umpire that hears something, not from the other side but the crowd; somebody said something. There is a mountain of kids that are twice his size standing in front of him, letting our kid touch home plate. He’s telling us that he saw all through those bodies that our kid didn’t touch home plate. He is looking for something that just wasn’t there. To have an umpire make that call is beyond comprehension to me.”
O’Brien likes the spirit he is seeing from his players. “I love these guys, they battle back,” said O’Brien.
“We hung in this game. Ryan Sparks pitched a great game. The pitching is coming around. I can’t say enough about Sparks, he pitched in the strike zone, he threw a complete game, he kept his pitch count down. We made the plays behind him.”
In O’Brien’s view, the team’s Big 3 have been setting the tone with their playmaking.
“I can’t say enough about how the Big 3 has been playing great,” asserted O’Brien, whose team moved to 5-4 with a 7-2 loss to Blair last Friday and faces a busy week ahead, hosting Lawerenceville on April 22, playing at Gill-St. Bernard’s on April 23, hosting Chestnut Hill (Pa.) on April 25, playing at Peddie on April 27 and at Steinert on April 28.
“The other guys are coming along, just how we hoped. We have a lot of kids doing a lot of good things.”
There could be good things on the horizon for the Panthers if they build on their strong start.
“If everything stays in place, if we keep healthy, keep progressing, and we keep working hard, I think by the end of the season we are going to be a tough out,” said O’Brien.
Alu, for his part, is looking forward to the stretch drive. “I think we can compete with any team,” said Alu.
“Cole has been throwing great, I think whenever he is on the mound, we can beat anybody. James (Radvany), Chase (Fleming) and Ryan (Sparks) have been stepping up each game. I think we are going to have a really good year.”