Princeton – Princeton’s amateur baseball team clinched the regular-season Eastern Minny West Division title, two weeks ago, and last weekend added a tournament championship.
The Panthers ripped past Nowthen 8-0 on Saturday, July 29, then took advantage of a plethora of Rum River mistakes to grab the 9-1 victory in the West Division Championship game on Sunday, July 30.
“It feels great. We are on a great winning streak right now so we’ve just got to keep stinging the bats and playing good defense,” shortstop and manager Kyle Norman said.
Princeton 8, Nowthen, 0
The bats were put to work early in Princeton’s first game of the tournament at Brennan Field in Hinckley. Following a Tanner Kinney one-out walk, Sam Archer ripped a double and Grant Brockhouse singled behind to fuel a quick 2-0 edge.
That’s all Damon Rademacher would need. The recently graduated Princeton High School senior posted a 1.01 earned run average with 22 strikeouts over 34 innings during legion ball, which ended July 21. On Saturday, he missed bats with even greater frequency.
Nine Knights wilted on strikes, including three in the fifth inning on 11 pitches, and nobody reached third base.
Meanwhile, the Panthers started circling the bases frequently after the fourth inning. Tanner Kinney knocked a single in the bottom half of the fifth, scoring Dan Voce and Kyle Norman. Kinney brought home another with a single in the sixth and one more in the eighth inning before a second RBI double by Archer finished the Panthers night with 12 hits.
Kinney finished 3-for-4 with a walk and four RBI and Archer went 3-for-5 with two doubles. Meanwhile, Rademacher finished a complete game nine innings, allowing three hits and no walks.
Princeton 9, Rum River 1
Rum River, owners of three of the last four league championships looked like they might slow the Panthers down in another title game.
The Bandit’s, Kevin Auth, homered in the teams’ final regular season meeting and, Sunday, he started with a double to the wall in left-center, scoring Tyler Kronstedt, who reached on a fielding-error from second-baseman Eric Norman.
After the first-inning blunder, though, the Panthers stepped up their game. Right fielder, Grant Brockhouse, made a diving catch on a sinking line drive to save a run one batter later, marking the start of error-free baseball.
“Once we got down we kind of stuck our heads up, just started grinding and came out on top,” Kyle Norman said.
With a strong defense behind him, Luke Hallbeck threw strong. He gathered just three strikeouts, but allowed little hard contact to halt the Bandits with just two more hits across the following eight innings.
“[Luke] was just throwing strikes, that’s all there is to it.” catcher Sam Archer said. “If you can throw a good fastball and a good curveball in this league, I mean,
with our defense and our solid play I think we’re going to pretty [far].”
While good defense had the Panthers in high spirits, the Bandit’s defense came crashing down.
Taylor McEachern squared up a double for his first hit of the playoffs, tying the game at one in the second. Then, in the third, Archer hit a liner inches over the right fielder’s glove for a two-out double and an airmailed throw by Rum River shortstop Michael Scardigli on Grant Brockhouse’s grounder gave Princeton a 2-1 lead.
Three more fielding errors, two by Scardigli, allowed a run to score in the fourth without the benefit of a Panther hit. Even worse, a fourth error for Scardigli gave Princeton two-on in the fifth inning.
“It was pretty embarrassing,” the Rum River Manager, Tom Koplitz, said, “It was way too big for us to come back from.”
Eric Norman magnified the mistakes. He drilled a ball into the left-center gap, bringing a 5-1 lead along with several celebratory yells from players crossing the plate and inside the dugout.
“We knew the implications of the game. If we won we were the champs of the league,” Archer said. “That really got a fire under everyone’s butt and it was just a fun game all-around.”
The rout was on. Norman scored on a Hallbeck single, next, and Rum River committed another error in the inning.
Meanwhile, the Panthers tallied 14 hits before Hallbeck came in to finish off the Bandits in a 1-2-3 ninth.
“They’re outstanding, Koplitz said of the Panthers. “They definitely have a strong lineup one-through-nine and they seem to have overcome their youth which doesn’t happen a lot in town ball.”
The Panthers oldest regulars are 2010 high school graduates and many are not old enough to drink. They bring that youth into the Minnesota Baseball Association Class C Region 1 Tournament, next Saturday, once again, at Brennan Field in Hinckley.
As the two–seed of the Eastern Minny League, Princeton will play three-seed Mora at 1:30 p.m., Aug. 5.
During their lone meeting, on June 10, Mora won 5-1 at home.
“We’re expecting their best and we’re going to play our best and hopefully come out on top,” Kyle Norman said.
Since the loss, Princeton is 12-1.