Sam Mulroy’s eyes were red and his uniform was streaked with dirt, signs of the valiant but ultimately unsuccessful fight waged by the Princeton University baseball team last weekend as it looked to earn a spot in the Ivy League Championship Series (ILCS).
Coming into Friday’s action, Princeton had a 10-6 league record and needed to sweep two doubleheaders from Cornell, 13-3 in league play, to pass the Big Red and win the Ivy’s Gehrig Division title.
In the opener of a twinbill at Ithaca on Friday, senior star Mulroy slammed a homer and had two hits and two RBIs to help Princeton win 13-3. Sparked by a magnificent 14-strikeout effort from junior pitcher Zak Hermans, the Tigers eked out a 1-0 win in Game 2 to stay alive.
In Game 1 on Sunday at the friendly confines of Clarke Field, the Tigers rode the shutout pitching of Matt Bowman and some clutch hitting from Steve Harrington and Blake Thomsen to prevail 6-0 and set up a winner-take-all showdown in the nightcap.
In the pivotal game, Princeton jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a first inning homer by John Mishu. After Cornell answered with a run in the top of the fifth, the Tigers forged ahead 2-1 an inning later on a Mike Ford RBI single. The Big Red took a 3-2 lead in the seventh on a Matt Hall homer.
With its season on the line heading into the bottom of the ninth, Princeton scratched out a run on a bunt single and a throwing error to tie the contest at 3-3 and force extra innings. Ben Swindford struck the decisive blow, smacking a solo homer in the top of the 12th that proved to be the game winner for Cornell as it held on for a 4-3 victory and the division title, advancing to a matchup against Dartmouth in the ILCS.
Despite the disappointment, Mulroy was still proud of the character displayed by the Tigers as they fought to the final out.
“We came to play all four games,” said Mulroy. “We battled, we scrapped. I think the last game is indicative of the whole series. We had to come back a couple of times and we just came up short which is really too bad.”
While it was a bad ending for the Tigers, Mulroy was able to put his stellar career in perspective.
“It is weird; I am proud of what we accomplished over my career but at the same time, you hate to see it end, especially like this,” said Mulroy, who led the Tigers this spring in batting average (.351), homers (eight) and RBIs (32).
“I have mixed emotions. For right now, I wished we could have won. As coach [Scott] Bradley said afterward in the huddle, there are a lot of years where 13-7 is good enough. It just happened that this year Cornell got off to a hot start and won enough games to hold us off; 13-7 is the second best we have done in my four years and is nothing to hang your heads about.”
Playing at catcher, center field and third base, Mulroy did his best to help the Tigers in any way possible.
“It has been a lot of fun,” said Mulroy. “This year with Tyler coming in, he deserved to catch as much as he did. I am happy to be in the lineup wherever. I am fine being behind the plate because I like to be in on every play, I like being in center field and running around a little bit.”
Mulroy is hoping to stay in the game a little bit as he has his eye on a career in professional ball after graduation from Princeton.
“At this point, it is a bit of a waiting game because the [Major League Baseball] draft isn’t for another month,” said Mulroy, a 5’11, 205-pound native of Bethesda, Md. “It is something I have always wanted to do and I am going to try to make it work.”
Princeton head coach Scott Bradley like the way his club worked its way into the decisive contest.
“It was great to be able to play out these games that mean this much instead of playing out a string when one loss would have put us in the situation,” said Bradley. “I am proud of them.”
The Tigers, though, just couldn’t string together enough clutch hits to pull off the sweep.
“It is hard to beat a good team four times in a weekend,” said Bradley, whose club finished with a 20-19 overall record. “Our pitching was just unbelievable. We struggled with our bats; we couldn’t score runs when we needed to.”
It will be hard for Bradley to deal with the loss of Mulroy and his classmates, Andrew Whitener, Tom Boggiano, Stephen Elmore, and Ryan Makis.
“It is a great group and they play hard,” asserted Bradley, who held a Senior Day ceremony at home plate after the game.
“They play hard and they care. They have a passion for baseball at Princeton. We are going to miss them desperately; that is for sure.”
Mulroy, for his part, is certainly going to miss playing for the Tigers.
“It has been awesome,” said Mulroy, who ends his Princeton career with 25 homers, the second most in program history.
“It is an honor to have played four years with these guys on this field and for these coaches. I couldn’t be happier with the way the four years went.”