June 8, 2022

With Stellar Group of Seniors Leading the Way, PHS Baseball Made its 2nd Straight State Tournament

ON THE BALL: Princeton High baseball player Drew Petrone takes a swing in a game this season. Senior infielder Petrone batted .391 this season to help PHS go 11-14. The Tigers saw their season end when they fell 8-1 at Middletown South last Wednesday in the first round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group 4 sectional tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Dom Capuano knew that his 16th-seeded Princeton High baseball team faced a big challenge as it played at top-seeded Middletown South last Wednesday in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 4 sectional tournament

“If you look across another Group 4 bracket or even a group 3 bracket which we are pretty close to, we would have been an 8th seed in North 2 or the Group 3 central so that is unfortunate,” said PHS head coach Capuano. “But with that said, we did that to ourselves, losing multiple games that were winnable and could have set ourselves up for a better seed.”

Having upset Edison 6-4 in the first round of the 2021 state tourney, the Tigers came out swinging.

“Jensen [Bergman] led off the game with a hit so right off that bat I was thinking maybe this could be something,” said Capuano.

But the Tigers could only muster one more hit the rest of the game as they fell 8-1 to the Eagles to end the spring with an 11-14 record.

“It was the same thing all year, we have hot bats at one point and then we don’t,” said Capuano. “We didn’t against them, the pitcher was good and we just didn’t match up well.”

PHS struggled down the stretch, losing its last four regular season games coming into the state opener.

“We just get over the hump in any of those last games, the last four before Middletown South were winnable games against opponents that we matched up with better,” said Capuano. “We had the better talent, we just didn’t win. That is competitive sports.”

Overall, Capuano liked the way his players competed as the program earned is second straight state tourney appearance.

“We did some good things, we had some good moments,” said Capuano. “Looking back on it, I had higher expectations. It didn’t live up to what I wanted it to. We still made the state tournament for a second year in a row and I couldn’t tell you the last time Princeton made back-to-back state tournaments. The little things in the grand scheme of where the program is are definitely a positive and a testament to the senior class.”

The squad’s senior group is leaving quite a legacy. “That is 13 guys that were in the state tournament their last two years of high school, not many Princeton High baseball athletes can say that,” said Capuano.

“I also think that goes to why I had higher expectations. I feel like maybe we fell a little bit short than we should have because of the experience coming back. It is competitive sports, sometimes things don’t go your way. It was just a bunch of little bounces here or there that we didn’t take advantage of and that happens.”

Several of the seniors came up big in the their final campaigns. Infielder Drew Petrone batted .391 while Jaxon Petrone hit .325 with a team-high 25 hits, Kenny Schiavone emerged as the squad’s pitching ace with 63 strikeouts and a 2.94 ERA in 50 innings, and leadoff hitter Jensen Bergman hit .348 with team highs in runs (22) and stolen bases (25).

“Drew’s improvement offensively was great,” said Capuano, whose senior group also included Carl Birge, Aiden Castillo, Peter Hare, Max Mazzucci, Connor McDowell, James Petrone, Theo Steiger, Jake Zuckerman, and Tyler DiNoia.

“In the latter half of the season, he was on fire. Jaxon improved his batting, he was another one who started off slow and came on as the season went on. Kenny’s pitching was great, he went from our No. 1 reliever to our ace, throwing 20 innings last year to 50 this year. Bergman improved on his stats from last year. He had 25 stolen bases. A lot of those seniors did well offensively. We hit .311 as a team, I thought we could hit high .280s this year as a team. Eight or nine people had .300 averages.”

Capuano acknowledged that fielding miscues hampered the Tigers.

“Defensively is where we struggled at times,” said Capuano. “No matter where we tried moving people around the infield, we made errors. The worst part was the errors always came at a time when we couldn’t have them. We weren’t able to overcome those errors. Sometimes you can pitch out of it.”

With sophomore Dylan Newman hitting .373 and classmate Alex Winters batting .327 and juniors Wes Price and Jon Tao along with sophomore Mike Prete logging some innings on the mound, PHS has a good foundation in place.

“We have two sophomores in Newman and Winters who both hit over .300 so you hope they are the building blocks of the lineup,” said Capuano. “Wes took on that reliever role from last year, I am hoping he can step up. Jon needs to stay heathy. Ideally you have two senior arms coming back which is always big. We were able to get Mike some innings on the mound.”

Capuano believes that the program has built a positive culture over the last few seasons.

“That was my goal when I started, it is holding ourselves to a higher standard,” said Capuano. “Getting 10 wins was something that was celebrated in the past. We finished 11-14; we got to 10 wins but we were still under .500. We made the state tournament two years in a row so making the state tournament is becoming a consistent thing. If that is the expectation, then everybody raises their game a little bit. If we are constantly making the tournament, then maybe the middle school kids, the elementary school kids see that and they want to get better. They want to be part of it and the interest snowballs. You can keep that culture of doing things with higher expectations.”