Dramatic late inning comebacks and walk off wins were common for the Princeton baseball team this year, as one could not count out the Tigers until the last out was earned.
Coming into the Section 7AAA Elimination game on June 8 at St. Francis High School, North Branch found itself leading by a single run late into contest as Princeton eyed that clutch hit that had come so often before.
However, that hit did not fall for Princeton as the Vikings were able to prevent any late inning heroics, taking the contest 2-1 to end Princeton’s season.
It was just one of those days hitting the ball for the Tigers said senior catcher Cameron Jensen. “Hits obviously didn’t go our way, we just had a couple that floated up there and didn’t drop,” he said.
Head Coach Jordan Neubauer agreed with Jensen, thinking the game was evenly matched besides the lack clutch hitting. “It was a game where both teams were really even. Defensively, throughout the game we were even, offensively, for the most part, we were even. We just didn’t have timely hitting today,” said Neubauer.
Toeing the rubber for Princeton in the win or go home game saw the Tigers turn to sophomore right-hander Mason Beltrand while the Vikings retorted with Devon Schulte.
Both pitchers brought their best stuff into the contest as the pair each started with two scoreless innings to begin the game.
Heading into the top of the third, Schulte was able to continue dealing on the mound with another shutout inning, bringing North Branch to the plate with the game still knotted at zero.
In the bottom of the third, Beltrand ran into some trouble, allowing a pair of doubles that resulted in the Vikings taking the 1-0 advantage over Princeton.
The 1-0 score would hold until the bottom of the fifth with North Branch adding another run off of Beltrand to double their lead coming into the top of the sixth.
Finding themselves down to their last six outs, Princeton began to chip away at the deficit with a run scoring single by Tigers’ Adam Johaneson, making it a 2-1 game as they headed to the bottom of the sixth.
Still working away on the mound was Beltrand, who was able keep North Branch off of the score board in its half of the sixth, keeping the game within reach with Princeton down to its last three outs.
Keeping the drama to a minimum, Schulte was able to pitch a perfect seventh inning sending the Tigers home while advancing the Vikings to face Chisago Lakes later that day.
Though picking up the tough luck loss, Beltrand pitched well enough to win according to Jensen. “As a sophomore coming in in a section game in a big spot, it was an incredible performance. He was fantastic,” said Jensen, as Beltrand finished his day with a line of six innings, two earned runs, six hits, and five strikeouts.
Going out with the loss, Neubauer was proud of the way the team kept fighting until the final out was made. “Proud of their effort, proud of the way they battled. A lot of one run games from this squad, we just usually come out on the other side,” said Neubauer.
The Tigers finished their season with a 13-10 record.
Seniors leave mark on the program
With the spring season ending for the Princeton team, the squad will graduate a handful of seniors.
Going forward without the group that led Princeton to the 13-win mark, Neubauer will miss the competitive spirit they brought to the ballpark every day. “The senior class is a really special group to me, they left the program in a good spot. Proud of the way they battled until the end. That’s the one quality that every single one of them possesses is that they all have that competitive fire, that’s how I would describe them. I’m going to miss them.”
Beltrand, who will step into a larger role next season agreed with his coach’s take. “They always encouraged you and never gave up,” he said.
Now up for the Princeton squad will be the start of the Legion and VFW baseball seasons as they will continue to compete for as long as they can this summer.