May 25, 2022

Star Catcher Birge Comes Up Big on Senior Day As PHS Baseball Tops Franklin, Tunes Up For States

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton High baseball player Carl Birge follows through on a swing as PHS hosted Franklin High last Wednesday. Senior catcher Birge went 3-for-4 with three runs and three RBIs as PHS topped Franklin 16-6. The Tigers, who moved to 11-11 with an 11-10 loss to WW/P-North last Monday, play at Seneca on May 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Carl Birge loved the vibe around the Valley Road field last Wednesday afternoon as the Princeton High baseball team held its annual Senior Day ceremony.

“This was really fun because a lot of people came, a lot of parents and a lot of the old players,” said senior catcher Birge. “It was great to see them.”

With PHS featuring a group of 13 tight-knit seniors, there is no wonder that the game drew a big crowd.

“We are best friends on the field, best friends off the field and it shows,” said Birge. “We are really comfortable with each other, we are quick to adjust to everything.”

After falling behind 4-1 to Franklin, the Tigers adjusted with aplomb, exploding for nine runs in the bottom of the third inning to go up 10-4 and never looked back on the way to a 16-6 victory.

“It was a great hitting game where we show off our offense,” said Birge, reflecting on the win which saw PHS pound out 20 hits.

“Everyone contributed and that is what we love to see. It was the same with our game against Ewing (an 8-4 win on May 13) where we had a six-run inning in the first. It helps to build up that big lead and then it becomes a whole lot easier to pitch and play after that.”

Birge made a big contribution, going 3 for 4 with three runs and three RBIs, including driving in the last run of the contest on a single through the infield to end the game on the 10 run-rule.

“It felt really good warming up,” said Birge. “At the plate I felt really comfortable. I was swinging for the fence on the last one but it worked.”

As a four-year starter at catcher, Birge has developed a comfort level with the PHS pitching staff. On Wednesday, he handled things as Kenny Schiavone started and went five innings and then Wes Price came on relief for one inning.

“Kenny and Wes are great to catch,” said Birge. “Our chemistry and experience is great. I almost don’t have to put down a sign, they just know everything. It is so fun catching them.”

Over his career, Birge has developed into a team leader from his critical spot in the diamond.

“The advice Cap (PHS head coach Dom Capuano) gave me after my freshman year was to begin to mold into that leader that he wants me to be,” said Birge. “I think it has shown a lot with these young guys, helping them.”

Capuano, for his part, appreciates what Birge has given PHS behind the plate and with his bat.

“He is the best defensive catcher in the county,” said Capuano. “Not having to worry about calling a game and being able to relinquish that and have him do such a good job is great. It is arguably the most important position in the field. He is really starting to come into his own with the bat.”

The team’s senior group has done a great job over the last four years.

“There are 13 of them and four of them have been playing in some capacity with varsity since their freshman year,” said Capuano, referring to Jaxon Petrone, Drew Petrone, Schiavone, and Birge.

“It is tough to replace 13 seniors who lost their most important year of competition, their sophomore year. This team has really only three years of experience when you think about it. It begs the question of what it  would be like if we had that one more year but they have done tremendous things. It is tough to stay in the moment, knowing what we are going to lose this year as we come to the end. They are all big losses and you weigh everything, that is going to sting.”

Capuano enjoyed seeing his seniors enjoy a big hitting game against Franklin.

“I turned to Goldy (assistant coach Scott Goldsmith) and I said, “We are going to have to slug this one out if we are going to win,’” said Capuano who got four hits from Jaxon Petrone in the win with Jensen Bergman and Drew Petrone contributing three hits apiece.

“The other coach said he hasn’t seen hitting like this in a while. We did the same thing on Friday night at Waterfront against Ewing. It was that kind of hitting.”

Even though PHS is making a push for state seeding,  Capuano had no qualms getting all of his seniors in the game against Franklin.

“It was get every one of them in and make sure that each one of them got to play,” said Capuano, whose team moved to 11-11 with an 11-10 loss to WW/P-North last Monday and plays at Seneca on May 26.

“It is tough when you are still hunting for points. Everybody knows their role. I push the guys who play all of the time, I say you do your job and we can get more people in to play. They were always going to play today but it made it easier. I feel comfortable with them in general. They did a good job, it was a good way to go out. It was a good tune-up for states.”

Birge believes the Tigers can make a big run in the states which starts next week.

“The way it is now we are probably going to see a good arm in the first round and it will be a tough matchup,” said Birge. “We did it before. In my freshman year we beat Hamilton West (a 1-0 win in the Mercer County Tournament) and last year we beat Edison (a 6-4 win in the state tournament). That was the same thing, go up early, get great pitching. That is how we play baseball. We have had a good win over Allentown this year (6-5 on April 25). Every game is a close game, we are never out of any game. Even the games we lose, we are in. I feel if we just stay locked in the whole seven innings then we have every chance to beat any team.”