By BRIAN WOODSON
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Spencer Edwards knew the Princeton Rays would eventually break out of its early-season slump.
He was right.
“We just kept our heads up, came together as a team, told ourselves we could do this and sooner or later we are going to break out of our little slump we were in,” Edwards said. “Tonight was the night.”
Edwards had three of Princeton’s 10 hits, and also scored a run, drove in a run and added two stolen bases, while three pitchers scattered seven hits, and the Rays broke a three-game losing streak with a 6-2 Appalachian League win over Johnson City in front of 835 spectators at a muggy Hunnicutt Field on Saturday night.
Princeton (2-7) entered the game having scored 17 runs and collected just 46 hits in eight games, but the Rays’ bats showed life on this night, including scoring four runs in the fourth with a little help from the sun. The trio of German Marquez, Stone Speer and Josh Kimborowicz were able to secure the win on the mound.
“It was nice to get a lead and to hold it,” Princeton manager Danny Sheaffer said. “Marquez did a great job, we took advantage of a couple of mistakes that they had.
“In that one inning the sun was our best friend, but that has happened against us a few times where we were on the receiving end of that so we have got to start somewhere and that is a good start.”
No one was happier than Edwards, who had been 1-for-24 on the season entering the game.
“It feels amazing, I have been working hard to keep my head up, keep my chin up and thank God tonight for everything that happened,” Edwards said. “We came out tonight and played a good ball game, we played as a team, just competed tonight.”
Sheaffer wasn’t surprised to see Edwards break loose at the plate.
“That is the way he played in the last three or four weeks in extended (spring training),” he said. “Hopefully that takes the monkey off his back and he becomes the player that he is.”
Princeton took the lead in the first when Edwards single and Bralin Jackson — who was 2-for-27 on the season — followed with an infield hit. Both runners moved up on a stolen base and Edwards scored on a fly ball to Rowan Wick in right field. His throw to third beat Jackson, but he was able to slide into the glove of Ronnierd Garcia and knock the ball loose.
Johnson City (7-3), which entered just one game behind Elizabethton in the West Division, tied the score in the fourth on consecutive singles by Luis Perez, Wick and Kenny Peoples-Wells.
The sun helped Princeton in the fourth. Yoel Arajuo led off with a single that first baseman Justin Ringo seemed to lose as the ball flew into right field. Coty Blanchard, who had two hits in the game, followed with a single to center and Jesus Araiza hit with a grounder to Peoples-Wells, but his flip to second was lost in the sun by Brett Wiley.
“In those situations, those things happen,” Johnson City manager Joe Kruzel said. “Sometimes you have got to play above it and tonight we weren’t able to play above it and they cashed in so it was a combination of things.”
Arajuo scored on a wild pitch by starter Dailyn Martinez, Travis Flores followed with a sacrifice fly to right field, and Elias Torres brought in another run with a double to left field. Edwards capped off the four-run frame with a single to left field.
“Just saw the ball well tonight and thank God again for everything that happened tonight,” Edwards said. “I played a great ball game, saw the ball well and just swung the bat.”
That would be plenty of support for Marquez, who allowed just five hits and two runs, while striking out six in five innings on the mound. Stone Speer surrendered just one hit in 2 2/3 innings, and Josh Kimborowicz allowed one hit to finish it off for the save.
That trio combined for eight strikeouts and five walks.
“I see a team that has to execute to win and we just can’t go out there and hit the ball out of the ball park because we are not that kind of club,” Sheaffer said. “We have got a good starting effort by Marquez today, an outstanding job by Speer, and Kimbo did a great job at the end.”
Johnson City scored once in the fifth when Vaughn Bryan tripled to center field and came home on a Justin Ringo infield out. That was it for the Cardinals, which had seven hits, stranding the bases loaded in the seventh, and leaving 12 runners on base in the game.
“We have done some things well, but then we have also looked a little hesitant at certain times,” said Kruzel, whose Cardinals were 1-for-13 with runners in scoring position. “For the most part over the first 10 games they have played well, tonight we just couldn’t cash in.
“We had a lot of opportunities both offensively and defensively and we didn’t make plays defensively and we just couldn’t get that one more hit.”
It was reunion of sorts for Edwards, who played high school ball in Rockwall, Texas with Johnson City catcher Steve Bean, who is currently out with a broken finger.
“He is my best friend, he has been my best friend since sixth grade,” Edwards said. “We hang out every single day at home in the offseason, we work out together, hit together, do everything together, me and him are really good buddies…
“I hope the best for him. God is going to heal him and then he is going to come out strong and do everything he can to play.”
Princeton returns to the diamond today to face Johnson City. First pitch is slated for 6:05 p.m.
“Tomorrow we are going to come out just as strong as tonight,” Edwards said. “We got our intensity up tonight and just raised our confidence even more and we will come back tomorrow and just put the same act together and follow it.”
That is what Sheaffer is hoping for as well.
“I think we have got to make all the plays, we can’t afford to make mistakes” Sheaffer said. “ff we play sound baseball I think we have an opportunity to win some games…
“The mistakes have been compounded, sometimes baserunning, sometimes defensive mistakes, sometimes offensive mistakes, but at this level you live with it, you learn from it and you try to stay positive with the kids and give them something to build on.”
While it might have looked like Princeton had been struggling with a 1-7 record, Kruzel wasn’t so sure.
“I don’t know if they have been struggling, they have had some very close games,” Kruzel said. “It just seems like they didn’t get a break here or there, but they have got a pretty solid lineup and some decent pitching so they are just as good as anybody else on any given night.
“You can’t look at the record and you can’t look at the stats this early in the year, guys are just now getting into the swing of things, Danny does a good job over there.”
The season is young. Much can happen over the next two months.
“We have got like 60 more to go,” Kruzel said. “It is a long way to the finish line so hopefully we can stay healthy and keep competing day in and day out.”
—Contact Brian Woodson
At Hunnicutt Field
Johnson City……….000 110 000 — 2 7 2
Princeton…………..100 400 10x — 6 10 1
Dailyn Martinez, Steve Sabatino (4), Zach Lorraine (7) and Jonathan Keener. German Marquez, Stone Speer (6), Josh Kimborowicz (8) and Jesus Araiza. W—Marquez (1-1); L—Martinez (0-1); S—Kimoborowicz (1). HR—none. Att—835.