Exclusives: Baseball preview, 2004
March 8, 2003
Baseball preview: Princeton power
Big hitters could be the Tigers top attraction this year
By Brett Tomlinson
For Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley, the
formula has worked for eight years. Strong, veteran pitching and
solid hitting put his Tigers on top of the Ivy League four times,
including last season. But the balance of power has shifted. This
year, the pitching is capable, but inexperienced, while at the plate,
Princeton has one of the most explosive lineups this side of the
Mason-Dixon Line. Were excited because weve never
had the type of team that can consistently put up a lot of runs,
In its opening victory over Old Dominion March
5, Princeton scored 14 runs including 10 against preseason
All-American pitcher Justin Verlander and the show was just
beginning. The Tigers continued their offensive outburst, beating
the Monarchs 6-1 March 6 and 9-5 March 7. Every Tiger who came to
the plate had at least one hit, with centerfielder B.J. Szymanski
05s eight hits leading the way (two home runs, two triples,
a double, and three singles).
On the mound, Ross Ohlendorf 05 continues
the line of Princeton pro prospects that has included recent draftees
Chris Young 02, Scott Hindman 03, and Thomas Pauly 04.
Pauly signed with the Cincinnati Reds last summer, giving up his
last year of eligibility. His departure, coupled with the graduation
of four seniors, leaves the Tigers with just two consistent starters
returning. Bradley does not complain about being a victim of his
own success. You sort of know if you have a good program,
you get some good players, and you develop their talent, some of
them are going to leave after three years, he says. A strong
freshman class and a patient group of upperclassmen should fill
in the open spots. Bradley plans to use the early games to figure
out a four-man weekend rotation.
Like several other Princeton sports, baseballs
schedule is virtually split into two seasons: the pre-Ivy season
and Ivy season. Early in the year, when the Tigers travel south
to play where the grass is green, their opponents often have more
than a month of extra practice. We tell our players, Dont
get discouraged if we lose a few. Dont get discouraged if
you get in a slump, Bradley says. The real tests against
the top teams come in June, when the Ivy champion plays in the N.C.A.A.
To get to the N.C.A.A.s, Princeton will need to
get past rivals Columbia, Cornell, and Penn in the Ivys Gehrig
Division, all of which are rebuilding their pitching staffs this
spring. Defending Rolfe Division champ Harvard looks like a formidable
foe. In the last eight seasons, the Crimson matched the Tigers
success with four league championships. Princeton begins its Ivy
schedule April 3 with a doubleheader against Dartmouth.
Princetons infield, anchored by catcher Tim Lahey 04
and second baseman Steve Young 04, will add a few newcomers
to the starting nine. Lahey, at 6 4, 235 pounds,
led Ivy hitters with 11 home runs last year, and his success throwing
out base runners makes him a complete contributor. Young, just 5
9 and 165 pounds, is a graceful and sure-handed fielder
who will help Matt Becker 06 transition to the starting shortstop
role. Freshman Sal Iacono will hold down the third base job, and
first base is still up for grabs, with Ryan Reich 04, Steve
Wendell 06, and Adam Balkan 05 vying for playing time.
Aaron Prince 07 will play the middle infield spots as a backup.
The Tigers deepest talent is in the outfield,
where Szymanski, Eric Fitzgerald 04, Andrew Salini 06,
Will Venable 05, and Balkan can each hit for power and run
the bases. The outfielders on the bench will fill the designated
hitter spot because, Bradley says, Those are five guys you
want in the lineup. Szymanski is a potential draft pick, but
he has another year remaining, as well as another football season
left to play as one of Princetons best receivers. Venable,
who displayed uncommon power last season, will join the team after
the basketball teams N.C.A.A. tournament run.
Ohlendorf, a tall and muscular power pitcher with a 98 miles-per-hour
fastball, looks to improve his breaking ball and changeup as he
works from the No. 1 starting role. Erik Stiller 06 proved
capable as a starter last year, despite a 1-4 record. Stiller pitched
mostly in midweek games against talented Big East teams and had
no-decisions in two Princeton wins.
Other potential starters include Gavin Fabian 07,
who pitched in the Little League World Series final as a 12-year-old;
Eric Walz 07, who won his first start against Old Dominion;
and Aaron Herr 05, a reliever for the last two years. Senior
Brian Biegen will likely fill multiple roles as a middle reliever,
closer, or spot starter. Brian Kappel 05 and left-handed submarine-style
hurler Worth Lumry 05 will also be key players in the bullpen.
is PAW's sports editor.