Though most of the starters are different from last spring, the Princeton Tigers baseball team has had the experience of a big postseason game with a trip to the next level hanging in the balance.
That’s exactly what the Tigers (16-10) will face this evening in Beckley, taking on Woodrow Wilson (18-10) in a rematch of last year’s Region 3 semifinal. First pitch is at 6:30 p.m. at Flying Eagle Field.
“Experience plays a big part in this regional tournament,” said Princeton head coach Josh Wilburn. “I think we’ll fine. We’ve just got to get timely hitting and a solid defense.”
Last year, the senior-laden Princeton team beat Woodrow Wilson 11-1 to reach the regional championship game. They didn’t stop winning until they took the school’s first state baseball title.
This year’s scenario is different. “Definitely,” Wilburn said. “Last year’s team, we had such a powerful offense, it took a lot of pressure off the defense, off the pitchers to be perfect (since) we were putting up 8, 9, 10, 11 runs a game.”
“This year, it puts a little more pressure on us,” he said. “We’re just not generating the runs we did. So what we have to do is to get runners in scoring position and do the best we can to get them in.”
Princeton and Woodrow met once this season, with the Tigers winning 9-2 on April 12. But the regional presents a different picture.
Wilburn said, “You go up there in a regional environment, with a one-game series, it definitely changes things. It puts a lot more pressure on the kids and a lot more pressure on the coaches.”
Woodrow coach Mark Daniel said, “It was early in the year and we didn’t have our whole lineup. Then we got rained out in the other game. But they have gotten a lot better since then and we have improved, too.”
Wilburn said, “Mark Daniel does a real good job with that team.”
The Princeton coach said he expects to start Bo Williams, who has a 7-2 pitching record, on the mound. He believes the Flying Eagles will counter with senior Hunter Greco, who he described as “one of the better pitchers in the region.”
Greco has a 5-2 record and an ERA of 1.55.
“One of the big keys is trying to get into the bullpen,” Wilburn said.
Princeton’s Addison Wood leads the Tigers in batting average at “a little over .400,” Wilburn said. At the plate, Woodrow is hitting .299. Greco, who also plays second base, leads the team with a .457 average.
Daniel said he thought the team might be a little down offensively because of its youth in some spots.
Princeton had to survive a tough, rain-delayed sectional series with Greenbrier East. After losing 11-0 to the Spartans, Princeton avoided elimination by taking a 5-2 win on May 9.
The deciding game was a start-and-stop affair due to last week’s rain, but ended on Friday night with a controversy-filled 4-2 Princeton win in Fairlea.
Wilburn said about the sectional series, “I think it was really good for us. We were put in the situation that our backs were against the wall. We lose 11-0 in the first ballgame. It puts a mental toll on the kids. Now it’s down to a one-game shot.”
“To go through all that, and all the controversy with the umpires and what-not ... to win the sectional and know we have one more game is very refreshing.”
“We think we have a good shot.”
Both teams had their sectional tournaments extended by rain.
The Flying Eagles defeated Oak Hill on Thursday for the Section 1 championship. They lost to the Red Devils 10-2 that evening, but went on to win the winner-take-all game 16-6 in five innings.
All sectional tournaments were scheduled to be completed by May 11, but relentless rain, followed by the statewide Westest, forced many teams to wait until the latter part of last week to determine champions.
Tonight’s winner will host either Riverside or South Charleston in the title game Wednesday.
Admission to the game is $6 for adults and $5 for students, as mandated by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission.
Contact Tom Bone at tbone@ bdtonline.com. Gary Fauber of The Register-Herald in Beckley contributed to this story.