Three state championship banners, a perfectly manicured field and a loyal fan base serve as calling cards to signify Princeton’s status as one of Eastern North Carolina’s most tradition-rich, small-school baseball programs.
But the Bulldogs haven’t claimed a Carolina 1A Conference title since 2008 – a drought coach Bruce Proctor hopes will end this spring, thanks in part to an experienced, talented senior class.
Through two games, Princeton has gotten off to a solid start in the league with a pair of victories, including a 21-0 home decision over a fledgling Neuse Charter squad on Tuesday at home.
“This is as old as we’ve ever been as a team,” said Proctor, who has been a member of the coaching staff for Princeton’s state crowns in 1992, 1994 and 2007, the last coming as a head coach. “If you are supposed to win with seniors, then we have the team.”
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The Bulldogs (4-2, 2-0) scored in every frame before the contest was called after the top of the fifth inning due to the mandatory 10-run rule. Three pitchers combined to allow the Cougars (1-3, 0-2) just one base hit.
Princeton was in charge from the beginning as leadoff hitter Nick Phillips began the bottom of the first stanza with a single. Tanner Flowers followed with an RBI double and Matt Boyette later came though with a run-scoring two-bagger as part of the Bulldogs’ three-run first.
Three to know
Tanner Flowers, Princeton: A junior pitcher, Flowers has developed into the Bulldogs’ ace this season. The right-handed stymied James Kenan with a one-hitter last week and followed up those heroics by working two perfect frames against Neuse Charter.
“(Flowers) has been very consistent for us,’’ Proctor said. “Not only has he done a really good job, but were are better defensively when he is on the mound. That is when we are as good as we can be on defense.”
Nick Phillips, Princeton: One of the Bulldogs’ team leaders, Phillips, a shortstop and three-year starter, sparkled at the plate Tuesday from his leadoff spot. He went 2-for-3 with two runs and one RBI while reaching base three times.
“We want (to win the league) really badly this year,” Phillips said. “We are playing much more as a team than we did last year. We have confidence in everybody we have, and we know we can do this.”
Rick Bartholomew, Princeton: Bartholomew came off the bench to go 2-for-2 with four RBI, including a three-run triple as part of the Bulldogs’ prolific third inning.
By the numbers
3: That’s how many pitches Flowers needed to finish off the top of the first frame. Each out was recorded by Phillips at shortstop – two off grounders and another courtesy of a pop fly.
12: The bottom of the third provided a dandy dozen of runs for the Bulldogs as 15 batters came to the plate. In addition to Bartholomew’s triple, Princeton also received RBI singles from Jasper Cook and Seth Price.
13: The Bulldogs collected 13 hits for the matchup and also took advantage of six walks and four hit batsmen.
2: The young Cougars have just a pair of seniors on their roster to go with five juniors, two sophomores and five freshmen. This is only the fifth season of Neuse Charter’s baseball program.
22: The number of seasons Proctor has served as the head coach at Princeton. Before then, he was an assistant for the Bulldogs and has also worked at Garner and Smithfield-Selma.
“Good players make you look like a smart coach, and I’ve had some really good players,’’ Proctor said. “I’ve been very fortunate and have had a lot of fun. Of course, everybody wants to win, but you don’t always measure success by wins.”
They said it
“We are trying to keep things simple this year,” said Neuse Charter coach Jeremy Repka, the only skipper the program has known. “We want to try to play seven innings in every game, but we have had some illnesses and injuries.
“Every year, we have been able to play more seven-inning games. We are getting closer.”