Baseball’s 2011 Ivy League Championship Series matched two teams that hardly could have been more different. On one side was Dartmouth, the two-time defending champion and preseason favorite that lived up to its billing with a 29–10 record. On the other was upstart Princeton, which finished in last place in 2010 and won just six of 22 nonconference games this year. The Big Green’s roster featured seasoned playoff veterans; the Tigers relied mostly on underclassmen.
This time, youth trumped experience. Princeton took two of three games to claim the conference championship, including an 8–5 victory in the deciding contest May 8 to punch the nation’s first ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
“It just shows that experience doesn’t mean that much,” head coach Scott Bradley said. “Our guys just performed a whole lot better.”
Thanks to a stellar 15–5 Ivy season — best in the conference by one game — the Tigers earned the right to host the championship series, a crucial advantage against Dartmouth, which has the longest home winning streak in the nation, at 24 games.
Stellar pitching performances from a pair of rookies were crucial to Princeton’s victories. Mike Ford ’14 took the mound for the opening game and shut down the potent Big Green offense. The righty, who ranked third among Ancient Eight starters with a 1.77 earned-run average in league games, scattered five hits in eight innings while allowing two runs.
Ford’s calling card in the regular season was his advanced array of off-speed pitches, but he succeeded in game one largely by blowing the ball past his opponents. Six of his seven strikeouts came on fastballs.
“I was a little pumped up, throwing a little faster today,” he said. “A little adrenaline never hurts.”
Ford helped the offense as well, going 3-for-4 at the plate and scoring two runs. His leadoff double in the eighth inning sparked a four-run rally that put the game away as the Tigers cruised to a 9–2 victory.
Princeton outplayed the visitors for the first six innings of the second game, as a two-run homer by Ford in the first inning was followed by two more runs in the second frame. Zak Hermans ’13 retired 19 of the first 20 hitters he faced, and Princeton took a 4–0 lead into the seventh inning.
But the Big Green would not let its season end so quickly. After an error gave Dartmouth an extra at-bat, second baseman Jeff Onstott homered with two outs to halve the lead. In the eighth inning, first baseman Jason Brooks’ double sent home the tying and go-ahead runs for a 5–4 advantage that would hold up.
The Tigers recovered and jumped out to an early lead in the following day’s rubber match, scoring in each of the first four innings to go ahead 5–2. But pitcher Kevin Link ’13 ran into trouble in the fifth inning, allowing back-to-back home runs with one out.
Bradley turned to freshman A.J. Goetz, who had pitched just four and one-third innings in the Ivy regular season. The rookie finished the game, retiring the first eight batters he faced and allowing only one run.Though the Tigers’ playoff run came as a surprise this season, they have historically been one of the Ivy’s top teams — Princeton won nine consecutive Lou Gehrig Division titles from 1996–2004 and reached five NCAA Tournaments in that span. As the talented group of underclassmen continues to mature, the Tigers hope that 2011 marks the start of another dynasty.