April 17, 2024

DiPietrantonio Swinging a Hot Bat for PU Baseball As Tigers Stay in Thick of Race for Ivy Playoff Spot

NICK OF TIME: Princeton University baseball player Nick DiPietrantonio takes off for first base in recent action. Last weekend, in a three-game series at Harvard, senior star DiPietrantonio went 5 for 13 with a pair of doubles in Game 2. Despite DiPietrantonio’s heroics, the Tigers went 1-2 against the Crimson, splitting a doubleheader on Saturday, losing 3-2 in the opener and then winning 5-4 in the nightcap, before falling 14-2 in the finale on Sunday. The Tigers, now 10-19 overall and 6-6 Ivy League, host Rider on April 17 and then resume Ivy action this weekend by hosting Penn for a three-game series with a doubleheader on April 20 and a single game on April 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Nick DiPietrantonio has experienced the ups and downs that come with being a baseball player during his Princeton University career.

Last Saturday, they came in the same at bat.

His first swing in the bottom of the ninth inning in the Tigers’ second game against Harvard did not look like that of a hero.

“I just got fooled,” said Princeton University senior DiPietrantonio. “I took a terrible swing at a breaking ball in the dirt.”

But Matt Scannell moved up to second base on the pitch, and on his next swing, DiPietrantonio pounded a double into center field to score Scannell for a 5-4 walk-off win and earn a split of the doubleheader for the Tigers.

“I think that was my first walk-off hit, definitely in my Princeton career,” said infielder/outfielder DiPietrantonio, a 6’3, 210-pound native of Manalapan. “So it really felt special. I’ll always vividly remember when I rounded second base and the celebration was on and I certainly saw Caden Shapiro running full sprint at me with everyone following behind. That was a special moment.”

It’s been a bit of that trend for the Tigers and DiPietrantonio. They started the season slower than they had hoped with injuries hampering them, but they head into this weekend’s three-game series against Penn tied with the Quakers and Yale in third place at 6-6 in Ivy League play after losing two of three games to Harvard. The Crimson won Sunday’s game, 14-2. The top four teams will make the Ivy tournament after the regular season.

“Every weekend from now on is going to be the same general motivation of the must-win weekend,” said DiPietrantonio. “We approach each team a little bit differently depending on the matchups, but from here on out we’re fighting to make it into the final four teams. It’s anybody’s league. So I don’t really think there’s too much pressure, just because we know what we need to accomplish and how we need to go about it, the adjustments that need to be made as well.”

The Tigers, who are 10-19 overall, are hopeful that last weekend is a sign of things to come for DiPietrantonio. He went 5 for 13 in the series with a pair of doubles in Game 2.

“I’ve been trying to treat every at bat individually and turn the page from the last at bat and just focus on the circumstances of the current at bat,” said DiPietrantonio. “That definitely helped in the last hit, the game-winning hit on Saturday, just forgetting about everything that happened. I had a tough game, the first game especially of the doubleheader — I was 1 for 4 with three strikeouts and then the second game I was just trying to turn the page and look at what’s out in front of me.”

Now DiPietrantonio is looking ahead to a home game with Rider on April 17 before Princeton resumes Ivy play this weekend by hosting Penn for a three-game series with a doubleheader on April 20 and a single game on April 21.

Sustaining his hot hitting would give Princeton a big boost.

“That’s the mystery of the game,” said DiPietrantonio, who is now hitting .255 with four homers, 11 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .439. “You just never know how it’s going to play out. I think it’s just about keeping my head down and stick to the approach and keeping things simple with the overarching theme of just contributing to the team’s success.”

The Tigers got superb pitching in the first two games of the Harvard series, good enough to win the game with a little more offense. Will Sword was the tough-luck loser in Game 1 Saturday after going six innings and allowing three runs, two of them earned. He struck out nine and walked no one, but Princeton fell, 3-2.

“We had a lot of guys step up this weekend,” said DiPietrantonio. “We lost a tough one the first game, but Will Sword pitched really well. We had a lot of guys down with injuries this past weekend. So going into it, we knew that a lot of guys would have to be ready to step up when the moment came and our pitching was phenomenal the first two games.”

Elliot Eaton went the first four innings and allowed two earned runs as the Tigers built a one-run lead. Andrew D’Alessio then pitched the final five and allowed one run in the ninth as Harvard tied it before DiPietrantonio’s heroics.

“Our pitching kept us in both games,” said DiPietrantonio. “Andrew D’Alessio threw very well in relief in the second game on Saturday and gave us a chance to pull that game out. Elliot Eaton did phenomenal and started Saturday, and that was a big step up for him. Throughout the season, he’s been mostly out of the bullpen earning some significant innings, and then stepping up on Saturday was huge for him as a freshman. The bottom line was our pitching staff was pretty short this past weekend so to salvage one game was good to keep us in the mix.”

Seniors like DiPietrantonio are down to their final weeks with the program. He will be using his COVID-19 year of eligibility to finish a master’s degree in management at Duke University next year before he explores going to medical school. His graduate program will allow him some more time to focus on his baseball next year. His Princeton class is playing together for their final chance to return to the Ivy tournament, where the winner goes automatically to the NCAA tournament.

“That’s all we’ve ever wanted,” said DiPietrantonio. “All this class ever wanted was to win an Ivy League championship and take a shot at winning the regional.”

New Jersey native DiPietrantonio chose to stay close to home for the chance to balance great academics and baseball. He had a big jump last year to career highs with 45 hits, eight doubles, six home runs and 31 RBI with a .268 batting average. His average is coming back up this year to approach last year’s, and he’s only two doubles and two home runs away from tying his career highs.

“It’s been so special,” said DiPietrantonio. “It’s always been a dream of mine to come here and I’ve always been thankful for Coach [Scott] Bradley granting me the opportunity. I always say that the magnitude of the degree from Princeton will mean more as I get older and I’ll start to realize how special it is. But through the relationships I’ve developed here and coach Bradley’s wisdom, it’s made every day seem special.”

DiPietrantonio already has a special memory from his last series with Harvard. His walk-off game-winner kept Princeton in a tie for one of the final two spots for the Ivy tournament. He would like nothing more than to make some more memories in the final three Ivy weekends to extend their season into the postseason.

“It just comes down to accomplishing what we know we can accomplish,” said DiPietrantonio. “We, without a doubt, have the talent to do some special things as a group. Even regardless of who is injured, we know that everyone who steps up is capable of getting the job done.”