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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

RALLY TIME: Princeton High senior star Anthony Bernazard (No. 2) accepts congratulations from his teammates after pounding out a bit hit in the Little Tigers' 12-3 victory over Hun last Thursday in the MCT quarters. Bernazard sparked the offense in the win, going 3-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI. PHS' bid for the MCT title was derailed by a 3-1 loss to Notre Dame last Saturday.

PHS Baseball Plays Hard to the End As it Just Misses States, MCT Final

By Bill Alden

It was the top of the sixth inning last Wednesday at Valley Road Field and the Princeton High baseball team trailed powerful Steinert by nine runs. A Steinert batter boomed a shot to center field that appeared to be uncatchable. Rather than taking it easy in a game that looked out of reach, PHS outfielders Rob Begin and Matt Walters took off on the dead run to track the ball down.

Unfortunately, Begin and Walters collided at full speed and the shot turned into an easy homer for the Spartans.

The two PHS players sat stunned on the field, with Begin eventually getting bandaged for a gash on the bridge of his nose and Walters sustaining a concussion.

The Little Tigers entered the bottom of the inning down 13-1 and fought to keep the game from ending due to the 10-run mercy rule.

Shortstop Anthony Bernazard led off the inning with a double and he was driven in by a Jon Lauri single. The PHS rally ended when Lauri was thrown out at the plate.

In the view of PHS head coach John Miranda, his club's performance in the sixth inning spoke volumes about how his team has battled as it reached the Mercer County Tournament semifinals and fell jut one win short of qualifying for the state tournament.

"These guys have a fighting spirit, they are very competitive," said Miranda, whose 13th-seeded club fell 3-1 to top-seeded Notre Dame last Saturday night in the MCT semis.

"We don't always play well but we always play hard. At the end of this game, we were still putting the pressure on them. The guys don't give up, they were still pushing the envelope at the very end there."

The Little Tigers showed plenty of grit as they shook off nagging injuries and a grueling schedule to keep in the running for the state tournament berth and the MCT title.

Their marathon week started with a 6-5 loss at Allentown on May 9 which saw the tying run cut down at the plate. A day later, Begin led the way to a 9-2 as he got the win on the mound and went 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs at the plate.

PHS rebounded from the loss to Steinert but shocking crosstown rival Hun 12-3 in the MCT quarters. Senior Jake Horan went the distance on the mound, striking out five and giving up just five hits in getting the win. Bernazard sparked the offense going 3-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI.

The win improved PHS improved to 9-10, meaning that it needed a win on Friday against Freehold to make the .500 record required to qualify for the state tournament. Unfortunately with Freehold chasing the same goal, PHS fell short as it dropped an 11-1 decision.

Miranda acknowledged that his team was feeling the effects of the late-season grind. "They are tired," said Miranda

"We have some guys banged up. The shortstop [Bernazard] has a bad hamstring, the first baseman [Horan] is hurt and the third baseman [Colin Serafin] couldn't play on Monday because of a bad back. These guys are tough, they are grinding it out."

In Miranda's view, his corps of seniors has supplied much of the team's intensity. "The seniors have really been the catalysts," asserted Miranda, whose corps of seniors included Begin, Horan, Bernazard, and Lauri. "They have played great baseball. They have never been to the state tournament and going after that has given them more energy."

Although PHS may have fallen short of its goal of making the states, Miranda was proud of his club has accomplished in more than quadrupling last season's win total of two.

"It's been a positive year," said Miranda, whose club moved to 9-13 after a 13-3 loss to Nottingham last Monday. "We have made so many strides compared to last year."

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