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Princeton 11/12 Softball's Resolve Paves the Way for Historic Result

By Bill Alden

Things looked bleak for Princeton's 11/12-year-old softball team as it headed into the late innings of its game against Florence last Monday in District 12 play at Grover Park.

Trailing 1-0 and facing elimination from the competition, Princeton star pitcher Kelsey Burns hurt her right shin as she was thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning.

Limping out to the mound, Burns kept her composure and struck out the side. Buoyed by Burns' gritty effort, Princeton finally broke through in the sixth and final inning.

With one out in the books, second baseman Fiona Mahon laid down a beautiful bunt and beat the throw by a step. After stealing second, Mahon raced home with the tying run on a sharp single by Olivia Ray. Then Burns, still limping, dropped a single into right field to drive in Ray with the go-ahead run.

In the bottom of the sixth, Burns capped her courageous effort by striking out two and shutting down Florence to preserve the win for Princeton and trigger a raucous on-field celebration.

The hollering and hugging were justified as the triumph marked the first time that Princeton has ever advanced to the District 12 Final Four.

Afterward, an ecstatic Princeton coach Billy Ray was bowled over by the character shown by his players. "You couldn't get a better game than that," said a grinning Ray, whose club posted a 2-2 mark . "We gave up one run early and our girls kept battling."

Ray had special words of praise for Burns. "Kelsey Burns kept us in the whole game," said Ray of his star hurler who had 14 strikeouts on the game. "She pitched the last three innings limping. Then with an injury, Kelsey gets the game-winning hit on a clean single."

While his players may have been cool-headed as the game headed down the stretch, Ray was sweating things out. "Worried? I was panicking," said Ray with a laugh as he recalled the sixth inning.

"I told the girls before the inning that they have been tremendous all year, they've been having fun all year. It was them. They just kept their heads together."

That resolve paved the way for Princeton softball to reach new heights. "For us this is thrilling," said Ray, whose team had already made history when it beat Florence 14-9 last Thursday to record its first-ever win in District 12 play.

"We are moving to the next level. I don't think anybody thought that this was possible. This is history for Princeton."

Princeton will face West Windsor on July 8 in Florence to kick-off the double-elimination Final Four competition. The other two teams remaining in the tourney are Washington Township and Cranbury-Plainsboro.

Ray, for one, is confident that his club can do some damage in Final Four. "I personally think that when Kelsey is pitching, we can beat anyone," asserted Ray, who acknowledged that his squad lacks pitching depth.

"They don't want to see her now. We have good hitting. Our fielding is getting better and better. Now we have some time for a few extra days of practice. This has been fun."

If Princeton can keep playing with the character it displayed Monday, itcould have a lot more fun this summer.

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