May 31, 2023

PDS Baseball Took its Lumps in Rocky Campaign But Has Positive Culture in Place for Future Success

POWER PITCHING: Princeton Day School baseball player Dylan Powers fires a pitch in recent action. Sophomore Powers proved to be a bright spot for PDS with his arm and bat as the Panthers went 1-22 this spring. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It would have been understandable if Eric Schnepf got discouraged as the Princeton Day School baseball team went 1-22 this spring in his first season at the helm of the program.

Schnepf, though, will have fond memories of his debut campaign notwithstanding the win-loss record.

“It was great; when kids share your love of the game and want to compete, it makes it easy,” said Schnepf. “I was lucky to have a good group who gave me their all. They wanted to be challenged, they wanted me to hold them to a higher standard. When they met that level, I let them know and when they didn’t reach that level, I let them know. They can take criticism, they wanted to be coached. When they play well, they motivate themselves. They inspire the guys around them. I had a blast. I hope the kids had as much fun as I did.”

The Panthers enjoyed a fun moment when they posted 8-5 win over North Plainfield on May 13 that snapped a 17-game losing streak.

“You put in a lot of hard work and time and effort and energy and to see their efforts get rewarded and be able to pick up a win, was a good feeling for the entire program,” said Schnepf, who got a big performance in the victory from senior star Ryan Vandal, who went 2 for 2 with two runs and three RBIs and also pitched three shutout innings.

PDS ended the season with another good effort as the ninth-seeded Panthers lost 10-7 at eighth-seeded Holy Cross Prep on May 23 in the first round of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) South Jersey Non-Public B tournament.

“We fought back but ultimately came up a little bit short,” said Schnepf. “I am proud of the way that they guys fought and competed. It just wasn’t enough to get a win.”

Reflecting on the season, Schnepf was proud of the way his players kept fighting.

“It starts with creating and developing and building the right kind of culture around competitiveness, accountability, and ability to overcome adversity,” said Schnepf. “You had a lot of young guys who didn’t have varsity experience getting a lot of opportunities. You bring them along and they start getting comfortable and see it as the building blocks and foundation for the years to come. The kids competed, they gave their best. At no point did they give up on themselves.”

In giving that effort, the Panthers showed improvement on the field. “It is a tough season from a wins and losses perspective, but you are seeing small shades of what we want to do on both sides of the baseball starting to happen,” said Schnepf. “The kids are learning and getting
comfortable — there was progress. We are definitely happy with some of the steps we took but by no means are we near the finish line.”

The team’s senior group, led by Vandal, brought a good perspective to the diamond.

“In the case of Ryan, he is someone who has been in the program a long time and had significant playing time,” said Schnepf, whose Class of ’23 also included Julian Liao, John Mazzarisi, and Bram Silva. “The younger guys are looking to him to set the example on how to carry yourself on the field and how to play the game the right way. For him to buy in and do what we asked him to do was extremely helpful. You could see how much he cared. The other seniors who were newer to the program bought in and did what was asked of them. It was a good group of seniors to lead the younger guys and set the right example out there in the approach that we want to take in the years to come.”

One of those younger guys, sophomore catcher Luke Haan, did very well this spring.

“Luke swung the bat well, he worked with our pitchers extremely well,” said Schnepf. “He is young. You can look at his stat line and what he was able to do for us; it is easy to forget that he is only a sophomore. He played a major role this year and going forward, his role is just for him to be himself and not try to do too much or try to be the guy. It is just continue to be Luke Haan and get everyone comfortable on the field and hold yourself accountable and everybody will follow your example.”

Another sophomore, Dylan Powers, emerged as a key player, excelling with the bat and on the mound.

“Dylan was another guy who did a tremendous job in every facet of the game for us,” said Schnepf. “It is easy to forget that he is only a sophomore as well.”

A pair of freshmen, Grayson McLaughlin and Gaines Newsome, showed some game.

“They were both everyday guys in the field
and in the lineup,” said Schnepf. “Grayson was in
the starting rotation. You play Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and he was one of our three starters. He got a lot of time in relief. Both of them were getting three or four at-bats every game. They were getting exposed to see the speed of the game. It is only going to help them in the long run.”

Schnepf sees those young players as linchpins that will help the program succeed in the long run.

“They are going to be here for a while so they are going to continue to learn, grow and develop,” said Schnepf. “The more time we have with them, the more comfortable they are going to feel. As you are continuing to build and you are bring in younger guys, it is like having coaches in the dugout. There is just someone they can look to to see how they are carrying themselves and going about their business day in, day out.”

In Schnepf’s view, the way the players took care of their business this spring through adversity will serve as a building block for the future.

“You can have all of the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the right culture or the right attitude, a lot of the times that talent can fall by the wayside,” said Schnepf. “The attitude, energy, and effort that we always preach was there. We insist on controlling what we can control and creating a positive culture. That is where we start and we will continue to build from there.”