Six links remained from Princeton’s state championship baseball team from 2012.
All six played their final games for the Tigers in a 4-3 Class AAA, Region III, Section 2 loss to Greenbrier East on a windy Wednesday night at Hunnicutt Field.
“They were out there with that state c championship team, not a whole lot of playing time, but they were there and they witnessed the wins and the road that it took to get there,” said Princeton head coach Josh Wilburn, who actually had seven seniors on this particular team, but Addison Wood arrived in 2013. “It is tough to see those seven seniors and not pull through.”
They had their chances, out-hitting the Spartans 10-2, but the Tigers left eight runners on base, including bases loaded with one out in the sixth, and first and third with one out in the fifth, but couldn’t get a run across.
“We have been in that game twice and come out of it twice as winners,” said Wilburn, whose Tigers won sectional titles in 2010 and ‘12. “I told the kids, ‘We have been here twice and we have another opportunity’ and it just wasn’t our night.
“That is baseball, the kids understand it. All the adversity we faced this year and the way the kids battled at the end of the year, I can’t be upset with the way they battled tonight.”
Ethan Boone scattered 10 hits for Greenbrier East, allowing all three runs in the first inning when the first five Princeton batters got on base, with the Tigers scoring on an RBI single from Brett Wall, and a two-run single by Will Hickman.
“It takes him a little while to find the groove, an inning or two, and then he is really good until the very end,” said Greenbrier East head coach Scott Vogelsong, of Boone, who struck out three and walked one to get the win.
A fourth runner was erased at third when Andrew Wilson was tagged out trying to get back on a close play at the bag. It was that type of night for the Tigers, who also had a runner retired at home on a failed squeeze play in the fourth.
“There were a lot of little things. I think if we get two bunts down, it changes that whole game right there, and the timely hitting,” Wilburn said. “We grounded into a few double plays that were killers, anywhere on the field except up the middle toward the bag, it is a totally different game.
“There are a lot of things I could rewind and say if this or that. It is one of those things, we just try to keep it as positive as we could and not point a finger at why the game went the way it did, it is kind of one of those things.”
Ryan Bayle bailed out Princeton through four innings, allowing one hit and striking out five for a 3-1 lead, with the Spartans scoring in the second with the help of a walk and two errors in the field.
Greenbrier East used small ball to put a three-spot up in the fifth. Vogelsong stressed patience at the plate, and it worked, with the Spartans scoring three runs on one hit, four walks and a hit-batsman off three Princeton pitchers.
The lone hit was an RBI by Colby Johnson, which followed two walks and a force play on a bunt at third. Bayle then loaded the bases by hitting a batter, and Wilburn brought in Aaron Ferguson, who walked Jonathan Carr — who had Greenbrier East’s other hit in the first — and Dayton Colley with the bases loaded to force in the tying and winning runs.
Wilburn then turned to Wood — who has been unable to pitch due to injury — and he promptly retired eight of the nine batters he faced, with the lone runner reaching on an error in the seventh.
“I would have liked to bring Addison in there, but sometimes it is who you finish with, not necessarily who you start, you want to finish strong and I was hoping we could get at least through the fifth before we used him,” Wilburn said. “I was hoping we wouldn’t have to use him at all and save him until tomorrow.
“It is a situation, he is going to see tomorrow, he has got college baseball to looking forward to so there is a bigger picture. He came in and gave us the opportunity, we just didn’t take care of it.”
Princeton had more chances. Ian Southcott led off the sixth with a single, swiped second and moved to third on an infield hit by Brett Wall. However, Boone retired the final two batters on ground balls to the left side of the infield, where third baseman Colley and shortstop Tanner Canterbury were flawless on seven infield grounders in the game.
“The biggest thing we have been preaching is mental toughness,” Vogelsong said. “We are going to make mistakes, things are going to happen, but whoever it is has to make the next play.”
It was more of the same in the sixth with the Tigers loading the bases with one out, but Southcott bounced into a 6-4-3 double play to the delight of the Spartans, who ran off the field confident in leaving with the sectional title.
“The double play in the bottom of the 6th, that told the tale,” Vogelsong said. “We have been preaching the same thing all year, hit line drives, field ground balls and make our routine plays and just stay solid defensively.”
Boone retired the final three batters to send the Spartans (19-5) to regional play next week.
“Princeton is a good team and a good program and it is always going to be a battle,” said Vogelsong, who had three juniors and no seniors in the starting lineup. “That is just how it goes.”
Eight of nine Princeton starters got at least one hit for the Tigers, including two singles each from Wall and Ferguson.
Despite a disappointing 10-18 record, which included the Tigers’ share of injuries, Wilburn was quick to point out that the Tigers have now produced an impressive 14 college baseball players over the last four years.
That includes Bayle and Southcott, who signed with West Virginia Tech earlier this week, and Wood, who has yet to decide on his destination.
“At the end of the day we have to evaluate our program and say what did we really accomplish...,” Wilburn said. “We are still heading in the right direction, we definitely are.”
—Contact Brian Woodson at email@example.com
at Hunnicutt Field
Greenbrier East...........010 030 0 — 4 2 2
Princeton.....................300 000 0 — 3 10 4
Ethan Boone and Josiah Solak. Ryan Bayle, Aaron Ferguson (5), Addison Wood (5) and Addison Wood, Brett Wall (5). W—Boone; L—Bayle.