The Princeton Rays put it all together on Tuesday night and ended their winless start with a 4-0 shutout of the Burlington Royals at Hunnicutt Field.
Princeton (1-4), who entered Tuesday as the only Appalachian League team without a victory, shut down Burlington (5-1), the sole remaining unbeaten team in the circuit.
Four young Rays pitchers split the mound work and allowed the Royals three hits.
They were bolstered when, on the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning, Princeton’s Spencer Edwards blasted a 400-foot home run to dead center for a 1-0 lead.
“It was a fastball, right down the middle,” Edwards said. “I love hitting those first-pitch fastballs.”
The other runs came in the third inning. Leopoldo Correa led off with a single on a grounder to right field, and Elias Torres followed with a textbook bunt single.
Correa scored on the Royals’ only error, an overthrow of first base by Ramon Torres that allowed Edwards to reach base for the second consecutive time. Princeton’s David Garcia hit his second double of the game to the right-center gap, driving in Torres and Edwards.
Garcia said, “Their pitchers were throwing well. Luckily I saw the ball well ... Our manager, Danny Sheaffer, preaches for us to have fun. The game’s hard enough. Don’t make it harder. ... We took the manager’s advice and played more relaxed, made the routine plays and executed.”
Sheaffer said, “It’s a young season. It’s a very young team. It’s going to be a learning process, of playing nine innings every day. ... I like their intensity.”
Correa was 2 for 3 at the plate, and Coty Blanchard hit a double.
The Rays gave D.J. Slaton his first professional start, and the 20-year-old right-hander started out by going to full counts on his first two batters. But with the help of his defense, he set down seven of the Royals’ first eight batters.
Slaton struck out four Royals and gave up one single, to Alfredo Escalera, in 2 1/3 innings.
“I came out a little too excited, a little too nervous,” Slaton said. “Then I settled down. I said, it’s still baseball. I’ve got to do the things that got me here. I think I did a decent job ... once I got past the nerves.”
“Naturally, I would have liked to have gone longer, but I was on the pitch count (and) it’s probably better, starting out, not to be throwing as many pitches.”
He said about Edwards staking the team to an early lead, “That’ll really settle you down, and calm your nerves, just knowing that you just have to go out there and put up a zero.”
Sheaffer said Slaton pitched “very, very well. He commanded his pitches. He got them over the plate.”
Hunter Wood, Stone Speer and closer Josh Kimborowicz followed Slaton on the mound.
Sheaffer said, “A key was Speer coming out to give us three good innings.” Speer struck out his first two batters, then allowed a double to Mike Mecurio and a single to Desmond Henry.
Mecurio tried to reach home on Henry’s hit to right field, but Princeton outfielder Yoel Araujo fired the ball to the plate and Jesus Araiza applied the tag to end the threat.
Speer ended his three frames with three strikeouts. Wood, who wound up the winning pitcher, and Kimborowicz each threw hitless ball.
Andres Machado, the Royals’ starter, pitched five innings, gave up five hits and took the loss. He and reliever Torey Deshazier each induced three strikeouts.
Burlington manager Tommy Shields said about his team’s start, “We’ve had great pitching. They’ve carried us. We’ve played solid defense — and we’ve scored just enough runs.”
He said the difference on Tuesday night was, “We got shut out. We got three hits.”
“Our pitching wasn’t bad. I think, we’ve just got a lot of young players, and they need to learn to compete at the plate in this league.”
The Royals stay in the neighborhood today, to play at Bluefield.
The Rays head west today to continue their string of facing tough opponents. Princeton will play three games at Elizabethton, Tenn. against the Twins, the defending Appalachian League champions — who defeated Burlington last September in the finals.
The Twins (5-1) beat Greeneville 8-4 on Tuesday night.
Slaton said, “I think getting this first win out of the way will allow us to settle down and not press at much. We’ve won; now we’ll go from here, and hopefully get some wins on the road.”
Garcia said, “I think we’re going there with a lot of confidence. We know what we’re capable of. ... We all know we have talent. We just have to have fun and believe in ourselves.”
Edwards said about playing Elizabethton, “I don’t know much about them. We’ll just put together the best lineup we can, and go down there and compete.”
“We knew it’d come around eventually, because we’re a good-hitting team. We came around tonight.”
— Contact Tom Bone at
At Hunnicutt Field
Burlington...............000 000 000 — 0 3 1
Princeton.................103 000 00x — 4 8 1
Andres Machado, Torey Deshazier (6) and Chad Johnson. D.J. Slaton, Hunter Wood (3), Stone Speer (5), Josh Kimborowicz (8) and Jesus Araiza. WP - Wood. LP - Machado. HR - Pctn: Edwards, 1st, 0 on. Att - 889.