It took seven years of trying before Princeton summer prep league coach Michael Price could convince enough players to give a Princeton summer baseball team a chance. Now he is finally getting his wish as the Bulldogs are making their initial foray into high school summer baseball with the Johnston County High School League.
Already Price says the players who have bought into the idea are already reaping dividends.
“We’ve been trying to get into something like this since 2007,” Price said. “We’ve had individual players in travel ball, Cal Ripken and American Legion, but this is the first time we’ve gotten enough players willing to try this as a team.”
And although the Bulldogs dropped a doubleheader Thursday evening to West Johnston by scores of 9-1 and 11-4, he feels that the Bulldogs are gaining the full benefit of what the JCHSL has to offer.
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“I’ve seen a lot of improvement in all of our players,” Price said. “We have 14 players, consisting of five rising freshmen while the rest are juniors and seniors and I’ve seen a lot of growth, just since we’ve started the summer league.”
Price and his assistants are stressing fundamentals, since the team consists of jayvee and varsity players.
West took advantage in both contests, building leads of 9-0 on the strength of six-run rallies in both contests.
Princeton rallied in the fourth inning in the night-cap, pushing across four runs on the strength of hits from Michael Wooten, Alex Harmon and Waylan Woodall. “Being the only Class 1A team in the league,” Price said, “we have to play against both teams (opponent’s jayvee and varsity squads) as one team (due to Princeton’s numbers).
“So we’re working on basic fundamentals for jayvees and at the same time, we’re working on learning our signs and our cues and working on defense, so we make sure we square up on everything we’re doing.”
Price has already seen the benefits of the league, in the individuals stepping up and willing to learn positions, particularly in the infield.
“We have found that we have individuals who have never played some positions before, and have turned out to be very versatile,” Price said. “We’ve been able to play kids at different positions, getting them to learn and try the positions and now they can play anywhere in the infield – that’s good to know.”
Price said he had seen a lot of skill development and the team had developed great chemistry.
“We have gone from having one first baseman in the spring, to having three,” he said. “And we also have several individuals who can handle third base. We have had at least three who have been playing the position very well.”
Also, the Bulldogs are developing a number of pitchers and catchers they hope will help them next spring.
“We’re really working on our pitching and our catching,” Price said. “We’re trying to develop two individuals into catchers that have never played catcher before. They’re working on their pitching-catching things, which is pretty much where we are spending our time right now.”
Price said lot of the pitchers he has seen come out have learned a lot – guys that he didn’t know were pitchers at all. He counted five hurlers, but beamed over the improvement of three that were continually developing – Luke Phillips, Matthew Boyette and Matt Edwards.
“All three have pitched in the past,” Price said. “But not at this level. However, all three have helped us out all summer.”
Also improving by leaps and bounds are catchers Hunter Beasley and Tyler Deans. Beasley entered the summer with experience on the jayvees last spring, while Deans had not caught since Little League.
“We just don’t have enough outfielders,” Price said. “But the summer has improved this team tremendously – I feel like we’ll keep participating in the league from now on.”