Post 218 Baseball Makes Districts for First Time, Battles to the End as it Gets Eliminated by Washington

Post 218 Baseball Makes Districts for First Time, Battles to the End as it Gets Eliminated by Washington

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HISTORIC DISTRICT: Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball player Jaxon Petrone hits the ball in recent action. Last Sunday, recent Princeton High grad Petrone got two hits, including a homer, in a losing cause as Post 218 lost 5-3 to Washington Township Post 521 in an elimination game at the N.J. District 4 tournament at West Deptford. It makes the first-ever appearance in District play for Post 218, which finished the summer with an 8-12 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

With the Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball team looking to make its first-ever trip to the New Jersey District tournament, it wanted to clinch a spot by beating Allentown last week rather than relying on help from other teams.

Allentown, though, posed a formidable obstacle to Post 218’s plan as it had already clinched a share of the Mercer County American Legion League (MCALL) regular season title.

Undaunted, a scrappy Post 218 team jumped out to an 11-2 lead over Allentown and held on for an 11-9 win to punch its ticket to the Districts.

“It was huge, at the time they were 14-3,” said Post 218 manager Benito Gonzalez. “We played them well the first time, it was Rohan [Sheth] starting in that game too. It was the fifth inning that was the issue the first time. The second time around was probably the best overall offensive effort that we put up the whole year.”

The victory epitomized the resilience that Post 218 displayed as it battled down the stretch.

“Our last four, five games we responded by winning a bunch of ones that we had to,” said Gonzalez. “We knew when we won against Allentown, we clinched it. We said guys, congratulations, you didn’t not let it go to fate.”

The guys were proud to make history for Post 218. “They were excited, during the middle of the season the idea of playoffs can be a little abstract,” said Gonzalez.

“As we started winning more towards the end, it started becoming more of a possibility and as we were playing during that game against Allentown, the guys got more excited. It was a solid 12-13 guys that got us there. They were the group that did that and we really tried to pump up the guys that had been there and tell them that they were the ones responsible for getting us in.”

Hitting the field last Saturday in West Deptford to open District 4 action by playing South Harrison, the Princeton team was feeling some butterflies.

“There was some excitement and there was some level of nervousness too,” said Gonzalez. “I wasn’t as worried about the Princeton High seniors because they have been that team for Princeton the last couple of years that got them to places they hadn’t been to and got some firsts. They were prepared. Some of our younger guys who just finished their sophomore year for different schools were definitely a little bit nervous.”

Running into a tough pitcher in Gavin Cunard, Post 218 came up with just two hits as it lost 10-0.

A day later, Princeton fell behind 5-1 to Washington Township Post 521 and battled back to narrow the gap to 5-3 and loaded the bases in the final inning before falling by that score.

“Things were much cleaner, they responded better,” said Gonzalez. “We lost in the end but we played much better. We started Jon [Tao], he started one of those games last week and got a must-win for us. Without that, we would not have been there to begin with and that is why I trusted him to take the start. But when he got into trouble, we brought in Rohan and he kept them at zero for the rest of the game which really gave us a great shot.”

Jaxon Petrone got a big shot for Post 218, blasting a homer as the team fought back against Washington.

“Jaxon ended up hitting a home run late in the game,” said Gonzalez of recent PHS grad Petrone, who starred in football, basketball, and baseball in his senior year in high school. “It was top of the sixth, a no doubter to left center. Jaxon is somebody who definitely takes commitment seriously and he expects it from other people. I think that is a really important thing.”

Post 218 showed commitment collectively as it didn’t throw in the towel despite the early deficit on Sunday.

“They could have lost focus after falling behind 5-1 and thought there goes the season but you know what, they didn’t,” said Gonzalez, whose team ended the summer with an 8-12 record.

“I credited Rohan for giving us a chance. I credited people with dealing with a pitcher who was pretty good. He had good breaking stuff and a good change, there were a lot of strikeouts early. I gave the team credit for scratching out a couple of runs the last few innings. In the last inning, it was bases loaded, one out.”

With Princeton going from four wins last year to eight this summer, Gonzalez is proud of the strides made by the program.

“I think the progress was great, we doubled our wins but we had more injury issues,” said Gonzalez. “Pitching-wise we didn’t have the pitching depth that I thought we were going to have going into the season. Offensively we did much better this season for sure. We did struggle to be consistent offensively last year and we did lose a lot of close games. I think a lot of that was because we didn’t put consistently good at-bats together. I can think of a couple of guys like Peter Hare and James Petrone who hit much better this summer compared to last summer. That is a huge difference. So having people like that combined with Alex Winters at the top of the lineup hitting .514 for the summer really helped.”

While the losses last weekend stung, the setbacks didn’t dim what Post 218 accomplished this summer.

“We told that to the guys, ‘This is historic, this is a really significant and important thing that you have done,’” said Gonzalez. “I really tried to give them the credit the most. In the end, they are the players, they have to go out there and they are the ones that have to do it. Being able to do that and have us just guide them along the way,
I really tried to emphasize that regardless of how it ended. I don’t like to lose, nobody does. To say at the very least, you should acknowledge that you were part of something that hadn’t happened before. That is something that nobody can take away.”

In the view of Gonzalez, Princeton can build on the breakthrough campaign.

“I think it is valuable; there are a couple people that we are losing next year due to eligibility but there are a number of seniors who could come back,” said Gonzalez. “Kids like Alex can come back. We have a handful of players who got experience who could be potentially coming back in a stronger position because they were getting playing time and asked to do some difficult things this summer. Next year there is the potential. It is always easier once you have been there before; when you do something once, you know you can do it.”

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