Returning to the field for the first time to play after an 11-day break, one might have expected a bit of rust from the Princeton Legion Baseball Team as they took on North Branch on July 12 at Solheim Field.
If there was any rust for Post 216, they sure didn’t show it on the way to an 11-1 five inning first game victory over the Vikings followed by a 10-1 win in the second game to sweep North Branch and win their fifth in a row.
Princeton Legion Coach, Troy Kinney was pleased with the results that the team demonstrated coming back from the holiday lay off. “We gave them a good eight days off during that Fourth of July break and we came back tonight, ready to go,” said Kinney.
Kicking off the first game against North Branch, starting pitcher Mitchell Krone was able to set the tone, pitching a shutout frame allowing the Tigers’ bats to come to the plate with the chance to strike first.
Post 216 did not squander the opportunity, putting up a three-spot in the bottom of the first as they jumped out to the lead.
Being spotted the early advantage, Krone once again made quick work of the Viking hitters, pitching another scoreless frame and getting the hot-hitting Princeton squad back to the plate.
The Tigers would match their first inning output and then some, adding another five more runs to propel to the 8-0 lead putting Post 216 well in control of the game.
Coming into the fourth inning, Krone would finish his night on the mound ending with a fourth shutout inning. Krone, who was on a pitch limit for the contest, was pulled after the fourth to save his arm for the upcoming Princeton Legion Tournament.
Krone is slated to start the first game on the mound for the Tigers in their legion tournament.
Taking over on the mound was Eli Gibbs, who was able to pitch the top of the fifth, allowing a single run to bring the game to 9-1.
Given the chance to end the game with two more runs, Princeton was able to reach that threshold ending the contest by mercy rule.
Post 216’s offense was able to put up 11 hits with Mason Beltrand leading the way with three hits. Krone and Adam Johanson both had team highs in the game for runs batted in with three.
Back for the second game, now as the away team, Princeton was first up to the plate.
Much like game one, the Tigers were able to once again jump all over the Vikings, this time keyed by a Ryan Brown three-run blast to left field as part of a five run first inning.
“It felt good,” said Brown, “I’ve never hit one on this field before,” he said on the big home run to put the Tigers in front.
Kinney wasn’t surprised by the showing displayed by Brown, who has been mashing all year long for Princeton according to the coach. “It feels like he should have five or six for us. He’s had a lot of doubles and triples this summer and he’s been getting dang near an extra base hit every other game. He’s playing phenomenal, he played phenomenal in the spring and he picked up right where he left off this summer. He has been great.”
Given the five run lead Princeton starting pitcher for game two in Kevin Rahe was able to go after hitters and be aggressive on the mound. “Pitching with a lead is always great, it just means you can attack hitters more. I try to get ahead of hitters and be quick in the inning so we can get right back to the bats and pick up where we left off,” said Rahe, who was able to do just that time and time again on the way to the complete game victory for the junior.
Combined with Rahe’s quick innings, the Princeton bats were able to once again put up double-digit runs and coast to the 10-1 win.
Sweeping away North Branch, Post 216 now sits at 13-5 on the year with a doubleheader against Mora on July 13 and the Princeton Legion Tournament, starting on July 15, all that remains before playoffs begin for the team.
Playing some of their best baseball in the most recent stretch, Rahe hopes the play can lead to a strong showing in the Sub State Playoffs and a possible State Tournament appearance. “We are setting the tone high for the postseason coming up and we hope we can make a state appearance,” he said.
Princeton Legion Tournament begins
Before Sub State begins for the team, the longest running legion baseball tournament in Minnesota, and one of the longest held in the nation awaits in the Princeton Legion Baseball Tournament. This year’s tournament will be the 51st in the history of the event.
The eight-team tournament begins on July 15, with Rogers and Spring Lake Park playing that night, followed by Post 216 and Elk River squaring off under the lights at Solheim Field.
Following the two games, the next day will feature Hutchinson and Marshall battling followed by Grand Rapids and Apple Valley facing off to decide match ups for Saturday.
After not being able to host the tournament last year due to COVID-19, Rahe looks forward to being able to once again host the long running baseball tradition. “It’s a blessing to have it this year,” he said.
Though looking forward to hosting and playing in the event, there is some added pressure to play well during the tournament. “It’s always important, you want to play good at home, for the tournament especially,” said Kinney.
Brown thinks if Princeton can continue to play loose and relaxed, they shouldn’t have a problem playing good baseball for their home fans for the tournament. “As long as we play loose and have fun, we will do well,” he said.