Author Archives: Stephen Wood

Pitchers Lead Princeton Baseball to Strong Ivy Start

The big question coming into this baseball season was, “What are they going to do without Zak Hermans ’13 and Mike Ford ’14?” The two pitchers combined for nine wins, 87 strikeouts, and only 22 earned runs over 120 1/3 innings last season with 11 complete games between them. Hitting .320 with 38 RBI, Ford made history by becoming the first player in league history to be named Ivy League Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year.

Pitcher Michael Fagan ’14. (Office of Athletic Communications)

Pitcher Michael Fagan ’14. (Office of Athletic Communications)

When they left, both for professional teams, it looked like Princeton’s pitching was bound to struggle. So far, that hasn’t happened.

Thanks to an influx of young talent for which virtually no adjustment period was necessary, the Tigers have jumped out to a good start in Ivy League play (4-2 after a pair of close losses at Yale Sunday). While the offense has been surprisingly productive early on, the Tigers would not have a winning record in the league without pitching.

When the Tigers mustered just three runs against Brown Saturday, the pressure was on starter Michael Fagan ’14. The veteran lived up to the challenge, allowing two runs on just four hits while fanning 11 Bears. This from a guy who was dogged by control issues for his first three seasons, to the extent that last year I argued that he shouldn’t be in the starting rotation. I take it all back. Fagan’s 3-1 record is the best on the team, and his ERA is a staunch 2.15.  Continue reading

Women’s Basketball Rolls in Final Weekend, Setting Up De Facto Championship Game vs. Penn

Alex Wheatley ’16 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Alex Wheatley ’16 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Nicole Hung ’14 (Office of Athletic Communications)

Nicole Hung ’14 (Office of Athletic Communications)

After taking care of business with two blowout wins this weekend, the women’s basketball team has set the stage for a high-stakes showdown Tuesday night against Penn.

“You always want to have a chance to play for an Ivy League title,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “And to be able to do that after what this young team has had to go through and all the growing we’ve had to do in a short period of time, it’s really exciting.”

The Tigers, who had just two Ivy League losses over the last four seasons, find themselves in a much tighter title race than they are used to. A loss to Harvard in Jadwin Gymnasium near the start of Ivy play and a March 1 loss to Brown have put them in a tie for first place with the Quakers. Each team has an 11-2 record in the Ancient Eight. Continue reading

Women’s Basketball Sweeps Brown, Yale, Looks Ahead to Key Matchup at Harvard

Though it has won each of its last five games by 11 or more points, the women’s basketball team finds itself in an unusually precarious position going into next weekend. For the first time in recent memory, the Tigers will face a must-win situation in an Ivy League game when they travel to Cambridge on Feb. 22.

Winners of four straight Ivy titles, the Tigers have lost just three league games since the 2009-10 season, all to Harvard. When the Crimson broke their 33-game conference winning streak last season, it was disappointing for Princeton but came late enough in the season that it wasn’t much cause for alarm. The Tigers still had a better record than the Crimson, which came into the game with two losses, and easily did away with their four remaining opponents to win the league.

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Blake Dietrick ’15 (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)

This year, however, a late-season slip-up against Harvard could be fatal to the Tigers’ postseason hopes. On Jan. 31, the Crimson handed the Tigers their first home league loss since 2009 and did so rather convincingly. (Harvard lost at Penn the following night, the Crimson’s only Ivy loss to date; Penn also has one loss, to the Tigers.) Last year’s Princeton-Harvard game in Cambridge was decided by three points — Harvard won by hitting its free throws down the stretch and the game would have gone to overtime if either forward Kristen Helmstetter ’14 or guard Blake Dietrick ’15 had hit the three-pointers they attempted as the clock ran down. Last month in Jadwin Gymnasium, however, it was very much Harvard’s game, with the Crimson going up by as much as 18 and winning 78-68.

Harvard held Helmstetter and Dietrick, who have emerged as the Tigers’ dynamic duo this year, to seven and eight points, respectively. Meanwhile, Harvard guard Christine Clarke had a monster night with 25 points and five rebounds. Clarke’s 16.7 points per game clip is the best in the league, while Dietrick’s 16 puts her at third.

Both players seem set to have another big night next weekend. Clarke has scored 41 points in her last two games, while Dietrick has looked even better. She set a personal best with 27 points against Brown Friday night, but the record did not last long. The next night, as the Tigers put up their highest points total of the season — 96 — against Yale, Dietrick outdid herself with 28 points. She also contributed six assists and six rebounds, and made 50 percent of her shots from beyond the arc.

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Wrestling Returns to Jadwin, Drops Match to Rutgers

Neither the snowstorm nor the onset of winter break prevented a large crowd from trekking to Jadwin Gymnasium Saturday night to see the Princeton wrestling team host Rutgers in what was billed as “a celebration of New Jersey wrestling.” The Tigers fell to the Scarlet Knights, but there were still signs throughout the night that head coach Chris Ayers has his team – which, at 3-1, already has more wins than it did last season – on the right track.

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Adam Krop ’15 (Photo: Office of Athletic Communications)

After a slow start for the Tigers in which Jordan Laster ’17 lost despite escaping a number of tight situations, Adam Krop ’15 brought the crowd to its feet, pinning his opponent in an overpowering display at 141 lbs. and tying the team score. Ayers praised Krop for getting the win after the Tigers lost the match before his at 133 lbs.

“We really thought we were gonna take 133. I think Krop thought that too,” Ayers said. “So for him to come out and ignite things a little bit was what we needed at the time. So he really did his job.”

Krop’s win was especially heartening to Tiger fans given that he had been absent from the mat until quite recently. The knee injury that kept him out for the entire 2012-13 season was just one of several medical issues which have plagued Princeton in the last few years.

In the wake of those injuries, inexperienced wrestlers have been shouldering much of the burden. One example, Abe Ayala ’16, has been proving himself capable all season and did so again Saturday. Wrestling at 165 lbs., Ayala kept his match close with two well-executed escapes and took down his man in the third period to earn a 6-4 win. Though it was too little, too late for Princeton, it gave the crowd much to cheer about.

“Abe’s wrestling well. He’s focused on wrestling and nothing else,” Ayers said. “You can see him out there – he’s made a jump to where he’s not concerned about other things, he’s just trying to score points. That’s it. He’s not thinking about his shape, he’s not thinking that he’s tired, he just keeps wrestling.”

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Talent, Creativity Propel Football to Ivy Title

Tailback Dre Nelson ’16 scored the first of Princeton football’s eight touchdowns against Yale Saturday. The Tigers lined up in what has now become something of a signature formation with three quarterbacks — Quinn Epperly ’15, Connor Michelsen ’15, and Kedric Bostic ’16 — in the backfield. Though each was a threat to run or throw the ball, head coach Bob Surace ’90 and offensive coordinator James Perry were not satisfied with that level of complexity and instead had the ball snapped straight to Nelson. He ran to the outside and went the distance thanks to a block from third-string quarterback Bostic.

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Dre Nelson ’16 weaves through the defense on the first of his two touchdowns against Yale. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Nelson added 35 more yards and another score as the game went on. He was one of four Tigers to run for over 30 yards. That stat, and his run, demonstrate the creativity and resourcefulness that have made the difference between the 1-9 Tigers of two years ago and this year’s Tigers, currently 8-1 and guaranteed at least a share of the Ivy League title.

It’s easy to look at the Tigers and see only Epperly, who is having one of the best seasons of any college quarterback and has set innumerable records. Against Yale, however, Epperly accounted for a relatively low percentage of Princeton’s points — he was responsible for only half the touchdowns. His accuracy was good, but not perfect, giving his receivers ample opportunity to show off their skills. Roman Wilson ’14 had 115 yards and a touchdown, making several catches on the sideline with his feet just barely in bounds. Connor Kelley ’15 showed off his athleticism on a touchdown grab when he had to elevate and out-maneuver a Yale defender. The defender was flagged for interference, but Kelley still made the catch.

Plays like that have lifted the Tigers to heights that didn’t seem possible just two years ago. All the players mentioned above were recruited when the Tigers were at the bottom of the Ivy League standings, yet Surace and Perry managed to attract them and have figured out some very original ways to use them.

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Epperly-to-Wilson Puts Princeton Over the Top, Again

After a storybook comeback in last year’s Harvard game, the Princeton football team seemed to have used up all its luck. As the Tigers dropped three of their next four games, Quinn Epperly ’15’s lob to the end zone, which was caught by Roman Wilson ’14 for the winning touchdown, looked more and more like a fluke. But one year later, on Oct. 26, the Tigers went to Cambridge and proved that they didn’t need luck to take down Harvard — they had the talent.

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Quinn Epperly ’15, show in action against Columbia, continued his remarkable season with a record-setting win at Harvard Oct. 26. To date, he has thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for 11. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

This year’s game ended in an almost identical fashion to last year’s. Needing to score, Epperly chucked it into the corner of the end zone and Wilson, with a Crimson player right on him, came down with it. Last year’s score put the Tigers up late in the final quarter of a game that ended 39-34. This year’s touchdown ended the third overtime period in a game that saw Princeton put up 51 points to edge Harvard’s 48.

What was striking about Saturday’s game was how different Princeton’s offense looked this time around. With quarterback Connor Michelsen ’15 sidelined by an injury, it was the first time in Epperly’s college career that he took every snap. Last season, he split time with Michelsen against Harvard, and each had his moments. As the tape of the final touchdown shows, however, Epperly’s pass could just as easily have been one of the worst moments of his season. He was under pressure and threw off the wrong foot, leaving it up to Wilson to get around the defender and make an outstanding catch.

This season, the game-winning touchdown exemplified how far Epperly, and Princeton’s offense, has come. Filled with confidence during his best passing game ever — he broke one school record with 37 completions in the game and another with six passing touchdowns — Epperly faked a quarterback dive, selling it completely, and delivered a perfect throw to his favorite target, Wilson.

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