June 8, 2016

Princeton Baseball Knocked Out at NCAA Regional; But Legacy of Remarkable Turnaround Will Live On


LOUISIANA LIGHTNING: Princeton University baseball player Billy Arendt takes a swing in recent action. Last weekend, senior third baseman Arendt starred in a losing cause as Princeton fell 5-3 to host Louisiana-Lafayette and 7-2 to Sam Houston State in the NCAA’s Lafayette Regional. Arendt went 4-for-9 on the weekend with three runs scored and a triple.The Ivy League champion Tigers ended the spring with a 24-21 overall record, a remarkable improvement on the 7-32 mark posted in 2015. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton University baseball team started play in the NCAA tournament at the Louisiana-Lafayette Regional last Friday evening, the Tigers found themselves in a lion’s den.

Tigue-Moore Field was packed to capacity with more than 3,500 fans loudly cheering on their Ragin’ Cajuns.

But Princeton junior right-hander Chad Powers quieted the rowdy throng for a while, producing a brilliant mound effort that saw the fourth-seeded Tigers leading top-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette 3-2 headed into the bottom of the seventh inning. Powers, though, started tiring and left in the eighth to an ovation and the Ragin’ Cajuns proceeded to pull out a 5-3 win.

Although Princeton ended up falling short, Princeton head coach Scott Bradley enjoyed the experience.

“It was great, it was as much fun and as good a baseball atmosphere as I ever been in all these years,” said Bradley, who is his 19th season at the helm of the Tigers.

“We have been to Arkansas, South Carolina, and LSU and these people down there love their Ragin’ Cajuns.”

The locals ended up showing some love to the Tigers in the wake of their valiant effort in defeat.

“It was just a great college baseball game and there was a number of people that tracked us down in restaurants, walking around downtown, and at the ballpark, coming by to tell us how well they thought our kids played,” said Bradley.

“When we go to these events our goal is to always win a game and to try to play on Sunday. It is all about the atmosphere and the experience and we got everything that we could have asked for this weekend.”

Powers gave Bradley everything asked of him and more, striking out eight and walking none in 7 1/3 innings of work.

“He was phenomenal; their coach came up to me afterwards and said he thought it was one of the top three or four games they had pitched against them all year long,” said Bradley of Powers, the 2016 Ivy League Pitcher of the Year.

“With the adrenaline, he was throwing three or four mph harder than he usually does and that makes the breaking stuff that much better. He threw great and we knew that in that type of an atmosphere, Chad is just unflappable. You just knew that nothing was going to bother him and he was going to pitch his game. We took the 3-2 lead. We had a chance to make the league a little bit bigger but their bullpen is really good. When they went to the bullpen arms, we had a tough time really putting anything together.”

In the elimination game on Saturday against third-seeded Sam Houston State, Princeton made things hard on itself by falling behind 4-0 in the third inning on the way to a 7-2 defeat.

“It is tough to win games when you just hit singles,” said Bradley. “We fell behind the same way; they went to their bullpen. Once they got to the last arm (Greg Belton), he was terrific, throwing in the mid-90s with a big power breaking ball. It was just hard for us to put anything together. We got a few hits here or there but we couldn‘t get that big hit with guys on. We couldn’t put the ball in play when we had runners in scoring position and that makes it hard. We had a couple of guys swing the bat well. The top of the order was pretty good with Jesper Horsted (3-for-9 with one run on the weekend), Billy Arendt (4-for-9, three runs, and a triple), and Danny Hoy (3-for-7, one run) but we had very few hits after that. Joe Flynn had a couple of hits.”

Looking back on the 2016 season, it is the mental toughness of his guys that comes to Bradley’s mind first.

“The theme of our whole year was resilience and the resiliency of this team and what they bounced back from last year, I could coach here for a lot more years and I don’t know if we will ever have a turnaround like that,” asserted Bradley, whose club ended the spring with a 24-21 overall record and an Ivy League title, a remarkable improvement on the 7-32 mark posted in 2015.

“It was incredible. With the exception of Jesper Horsted and Joe Flynn jumping in, it was basically the same guys. Man for man across the board, you look at everybody’s statistics and all of our returning players got better. That is a credit to them.”

Despite the team’s struggles in 2015, Bradley had a feeling this spring could be special.

“It started last year because everybody could have jumped off the ship and saved themselves with things going that bad,” said Bradley.

“People laughed at me when I told them that I felt we had a good year last year in terms of our work. The guys showed up every day and we went to work. No matter what the score of the game was, they tried their best, they tried to win. We didn’t win very many and yet the next day they came to practice, they didn’t get on each other. Our guys came out every day with a good attitude and tried to make themselves better. They went home over the summer with a game plan and they came back and turned it around.”

And by making themselves so much better, the Tigers left their veteran coach with some indelible memories.

“It was a great year, I couldn’t be more proud of our guys,” said Bradley. “It was sad to watch, some of the the seniors were packing up their stuff when I left campus today but they left a legacy that is going to live on for quite a while.”