Ignited by Sparks’ All-Around Contributions, PDS Baseball Primed for Postseason Run
SPARKS FLYING: Princeton Day School baseball player Ryan Sparks runs the bases in recent action. Last week, senior star Sparks contributed on the mound and at the plate to help PDS defeat Lawrenceville 9-8. Last Saturday, the Panthers topped Hightstown 7-1 in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament to move to 9-8. Eighth-seeded PDS was slated to play top-seeded Steinert in the MCT quarterfinals on May 9 with the winner advancing to the semis on May 13. The Panthers will also be starting play in the Prep B tournament where they are hosting Newark Academy in an opening round contest on May 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Ryan Sparks is determined to be a jack-of-all trades this spring in his senior season for the Princeton Day School baseball team.
Sparks has played at first base, the outfield, and is a key pitcher in the starting rotation as he looks to get the most out of his final campaign for the Panthers and prepares to play at the next level at Gettysburg College.
“I am trying to play everywhere,” said Sparks. “When I get to Gettysburg next year, I know the coach is looking at me at first base, pitcher, and possibly outfield.”
Last week, Sparks’ versatility was on display as PDS edged Lawrenceville 9-8. Lefty Sparks pitched five innings and went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in the May 2 contest.
While Sparks didn’t have his best stuff in his mound effort he hung in there as he struck out four and gave up five runs on five hits.
“I thought I pitched pretty well,” said Sparks. “I didn’t really have my curve ball today; I was locating my fastball somewhat. It doesn’t usually end that poorly. This season, I have been on fire with two shutouts. I have a lot of confidence this season, just throwing the ball pretty much.”
At the bat, Sparks achieved a milestone with his two-run homer in the bottom of the third.
“That is my first home run, it was a 3-0 count and I was actually waiting for coach to give me the take sign,” said Sparks.
“I didn’t see the take sign so I got real excited. I was like OK I am swinging at this ball. I sort of knew it was a homer but I just kept running just in case. I thought maybe I could hustle out an inside the park homer.”
Entering the Lawrenceville game mired in a three-game losing streak, PDS was determined to come out hustling against the Big Red.
“A big issue this year has been lack of energy, the last three games that we lost, we were all dead, we didn’t say anything,” said Sparks.
“Yesterday after our game during our talk we made a big point of bringing the energy today.”
PDS head coach Brian Dudeck was confident that his players would be fired up for the game with Lawrenceville.
“It is a rivalry game; you saw guys flying on and off the field, everybody was just into the game,” said Dudeck.
“Yesterday against DelVal, it was completely dead. I think it is a game where we can be competitive if we come out hard. We get to this time of the season where you have to kick it into fourth gear.”
The Panthers kicked things into gear offensively against the Big Red as Zach Dudeck had two RBIs, Luke Franzoni went 3-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs and Paul Franzoni joined Sparks in hitting a homer.
“Zach had a hit at the end, that was big,” said Dudeck. “Sparks had his home run. Luke has been awesome. He is unbelievable, he has been that way for us all year.”
With a strong pitching rotation featuring Sparks, and fellow seniors Chase Fleming and Russell Kirczow, Dudeck believes his team can do some damage in postseason play. Last Saturday, the eight-seeded Panthers topped ninth-seeded Hightstown 7-1 behind a strong mound effort from Fleming in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament last Saturday to move to 9-8 and they are slated to face top-seeded Steinert in the MCT quarterfinals on May 9 with the winner advancing to the semis on May 13.
“It is advantageous when our starters get ahead in the count,” said Dudeck whose team will also be starting play in the Prep B tournament where it is hosting Newark Academy in an opening round contest on May 11. “I think it is going to have to line up pitching wise. Everyday, you have to have two or three guys available.”
Sparks, for his part, believes that a blend of starting pitching and sharper play could result in a big finish for the Panthers.
“I think our record doesn’t speak for how we have played,” said Sparks. “With our pitching, once we have me, Russell (Kirczow) and Chase (Fleming) healthy on a full rotation, we are going to do really well. We need to cut down on those errors and pick up the energy.”