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PATRIOTS' GAME: Members of the Princeton Patriots display the spoils of victory after winning the East Brunswick Summer Slugfest All-Star Tournament last week. Pictured in the front row, from left, are Clay Censits, Dan Shaughnessy, Ra'Shon Carr, Phil Pecora, and Brett Bonn. In the middle row, from left, are Mike Dunlap, Josh Berger, Tyler Barton, Beau Horan, Clay Alter, Nate Ash and Mike Manley. In the back row, from left, are Coaches Mike Dunlap, Gordon Alter, John Pecora, and Manager Paul Horan. Not pictured are James Bunn and Coach Kevin Manley.
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Princeton Patriots Show Their True Colors In Winning East Brunswick Slugfest Event

By Bill Alden

Getting off to a 0-2 start last week in the East Brunswick Summer Slugfest All-Star Tournament, the Princeton Patriots seemed headed for an early exit from the competition. Shaking off those early setbacks, the Princeton 11-year-old squad won their next two contests to advance to the semifinals of the six-team tournament.

In the semifinal round, the Patriots produced a dramatic 6-5 win over Monroe in extra innings. Princeton built a 5-1 lead only to see Monroe knot the score at 5-5. The Patriots responded by pushing across a run in the seventh to earn a spot in the championship game.

The Patriots hit their stride in the title game against host East Brunswick. Princeton built an early 11-0 lead, powered by a grand slam homer by Brett Bonn and clutch hitting by Ra'Shon Carr. Princeton cruised to a 13-8 win as Bonn, Nathan Ash, and Mike Dunlap shared the pitching duties.

For Princeton manager Paul Horan, the triumph was meaningful on several levels "It was the culmination of a lot of effort by the players and their parents," said Horan, noting that the program's best result this summer before last week had been a second place finish in the Parsippany tournament.

"It felt like all the hard work of everyone involved had paid off. I think the kids saw the importance of hard work and focus and the joy you get from performing at your best."

The happiness that comes from full effort is at the heart of the Patriots team, a year-round program that started last fall. "We recognized that baseball enrollment in the Princeton area is down; we're losing kids to lacrosse and other sports," said Horan, in explaining why the Patriots were founded.

"We wanted to get a motivated group and try to do something in a travel environment. We wanted to up the level of competition for these kids. We wanted to bring systematic instruction to these kids to help them develop better baseball technique and mechanics. The approach centers on 'I-P-C,' instruction, practice, and competition."

The Patriots typically hold practices twice a week, using the fields at Grover Park, Community Park, and Smoyer. The program played about a dozen games last fall and ended up playing 25 games in its spring slate. This summer, the club has a 7-11 record and will end the season by taking part in the West End tournament starting on July 29.

In Horan's view, the players have thrived on their more intense dose of the game. "They've adapted, they've become much more accomplished," said Horan, noting that Phil Pecora and Clay Alter have emerged as solid pitchers while Mike Manley and Beau Horan have starred in the infield and Josh Berger and Dan Shaughnessy have been steady all-around performers.

This fall, the Patriots will take the plunge in "50-70" baseball which plays on fields that are slightly bigger than the standard Little League dimensions with the distance between home plate and the pitcher's mound being extended five feet to 50 feet and the distance between the bases extended from 60 feet to 70 feet.

From his vantage point, Horan hopes the kids will learn lessons that will extend beyond baseball.

"We want the kids to learn the value of striving for excellence," asserted Horan, who also helps coach the Princeton Post 218 team in the Mercer County American Legion League. "The focus that engenders should help them build character for the other things they do in life." The Patriots demonstrated plenty of character as they broke through for their title at the East Brunswick Slugfest.

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