OREGON — The Princeton Tigers baseball season came to an end mainly due to one very freakish half inning. A key error, a crazy bounce and unexpected thunder helped the Oregon Hawks break what was shaping up to be a classic pitchers’ duel and blow the game open on the way to a 6-1 regional victory.
With the game tied 1-1 in the top of the fourth, Princeton senior Matt Hayes was matching Hawks’ ace and four-year varsity pitcher Alex Cain pitch for pitch.
After a misplayed seeing eye single to lead off the inning, it looked like Hayes would escape unscathed as he coaxed Skylar Short to hit into a double play.
Even after Adam Bettner ripped a solid single, it looked like the Tigers would come to bat in a tie game as Hayes got junior Joey Rowe to pop up in foul territory on the third base side. Catcher Logan Wilde seemed to have it in his sights when third baseman Caleb Dickens called him off and subsequently dropped what would have been the third out.
Given new life, Rowe promptly lined a soft single to right center which right fielder Tyler Marvin misplayed allowing Bettner to score all the way from first and break the deadlock.
After the next batter walked, Cain helped his own cause. With men on first and second, two strikes and two out, he ripped a low line drive to center field. It was hit so hard that center-fielder Isaiah Taylor, who looked to be positioned perfectly to play it on one bounce, most likely would have been able to prevent any runs from scoring.
But then crazy occurred. The ball must have hit a divot or a rock or something as it bounced high up in the air over Taylor’s head and all the way to the fence for a bases-clearing triple. Cain would score a couple pitches later when Hayes uncorked a wild pitch, making the score 5-1.
“The reality is they didn’t beat us as much as we beat ourselves,” said Princeton coach Tim Taylor. “We gave them every run they scored. We didn’t put the bat on the ball enough.”
After the Tigers finally escaped the nightmarish top of the fourth, Wilde was about to come to the plate to lead off the bottom half when things got even stranger.
With the sun shining brightly, thunder was heard overhead. The umpires, as per IHSA rules, cleared the field and began the clock for the delay (play cannot resume until 30 minutes after the last thunder/lightning). Two and a half minutes of rain and a few more claps of thunder and the delay was stretched out to about 50 minutes.
While the Tigers were generous in giving runs away, Cain and the Hawks did not return the favor. Cain pitched a complete game, allowing only three hits and two walks while striking out seven.
“I trusted my catcher tonight,” said Cain. “Knowing that we’ve been on the same page all season and that we can hit the spot whenever we want and that we can trust my defense behind me.”
The Hawk defense slipped in the first inning as an infield error brought the only run in, but it was flawless after that.
Fifth-seeded Oregon, who had to travel to Sterling for a play in-game against Sterling Newman on Monday, now advances to the regional championship Saturday morning against Mendota. The Trojans defeated No. 2 seed Forreston 3-2.
“Pitching is the key to our advancement,” said Hawk coach Adam Albrecht. “Murray pitched a really nice game in Newman and Cain did a great job tonight. We know that if we can give him (Cain) some support, even a little bit of support, we’ll be in the game.”
After earning the first seed, the Tigers come home disappointed but much improved over last season and plenty of reason to look forward to next year. Finishing 2013 at 12-10, the Tigers only graduate four seniors. With a talented group of underclassmen to add to an experienced group of juniors, expectations are high for next year.
“I would’ve liked to win this game for the seniors,” Taylor said. “The seniors have had great leadership this year. I couldn’t be more proud of the way they carried themselves on and off the field. We have a lot of juniors coming back and have some good underclassmen so we’re looking forward to a good future.”
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