Hall 2A baseball regional: Princeton 4, Mendota 3
PRINCETON — Owen Rossler staked the Princeton Tigers to an early lead over Mendota with a deep, two-run blast in the bottom of the first inning in Monday’s regional opener at Prather Field.
That was the only time the Tigers felt at ease until the end of the game.
The Trojans played more like a 25-3 team than a 3-25, taking a 3-2 lead in the second and battling all the way before the Tigers regained the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth on a fielder’s choice on the way to a 4-3 victory.
“I told the boys, this is a typical region playoff game. You think you’re going to do better than you do, and you struggle, and fortunately we were able to come out on top,” PHS coach Wick Warren said.
Mendota coach Aaron Sester said the Trojans were a much better team than their final 3-25 record, but their lack of pitching depth kept them from staying in games.
“I was honest with the guys. I told them nobody was going to respect you and everybody’s going to be overlooking you,” said Sester, a 2003 Mendota graduate and former Trojan. “You’re the 10 seed, you have three wins. People think they’re going to 10-run you. I think Princeton thought that coming in, and we earned that respect.
“We could have won the ballgame, but we didn’t execute enough when we needed.”
The Tigers (11-8) move on to play regional host Hall in Wednesday’s semifinal play at Kirby Park in Spring Valley for a 4 p.m. first pitch. PHS battled the defending state champs to a 2-1 defeat in last year’s regional finals.
“It’s going to be tough, but if we bring our A game, it will be a good game. Fun to watch, for sure,” Rossler said.
Rossler, who recently clubbed a long homer at LumberKings Stadium in Clinton, Iowa, brought his big bat home Monday. He launched a deep drive over the right-center field fence to send Tiger dad Craig Atkinson ducking for cover with courtesy runner Jamie Reinhardt on board to make it 2-0.
“It was a pitch up in the zone, and I took it the other way like we’ve been practicing lately. Just went over,” Rossler said.
The Trojans didn’t let the Tigers celebrate for long, scoring three runs in the top of the third.
Tiger starter Braden Murfin hit back-to-back batters, the first to load the bases, and the second to force home a run. A base hit by Ted Landgraft tied the game at 2, and Brayden Lindenmeyer beat out shortstop Beck Robbins’ throw home on a fielder’s choice to give the Trojans a 3-2 lead.
Noah Atkinson sent Rossler racing home with a base hit to tie the game 3-3 in the bottom of the fourth.
Princeton took the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth inning when Robbins beat second baseman Jose Escatel’s throw home with the infield drawn in to put the Tigers up 4-3.
The Trojans threatened in the seventh, helped by two Tiger errors. Alex Figuerora hit safely and Sester was sending Andrew Casteneda hard around third, before throwing up the stop sign, knowing Tiger right fielder Ean Compton threw out another runner earlier in the game at third.
“My original thought was, ‘I’m sending him no matter what, because he’s one of our fastest runners. I was waving like Wendell Kim (former Cubs coach) over there,” Sester said. “And then when the throw came in, I knew their right fielder had a pretty good arm. I’m pretty sure the first baseman had the ball at the mound when he was 10 feet off the bag and that’s when I threw the brakes up. Luckily, they weren’t expecting me to hold him, because he probably would have been out at third had the first baseman reacted better.”
Conner Dickens, who pitched the final five innings in relief for the win, fanned Lindenmeyer to end the game.
• Notes: As they have throughout the season, the Trojans hung a No. 22 jersey in their dugout in memory of former Trojan and 2018 MHS grad Ben Bokus, who passed away this spring from cancer.