STATE COLLEGE - Through the first half of the season, the State College Spikes have failed to put together complete baseball games.
Monday night was no different.
During the Spikes' 9-5 loss to the Brooklyn Cyclones, State College struggled fundamentally on both offense and defense.
On "Christmas in July" night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, the Spikes gift wrapped multiple scoring chances and easy outs for the Cyclones.
Fortunes looked bright early on for State College. The first three innings took the look of a pitcher's duel. Nick Kingham started for the Spikes and faced the minimum number of batters through the first three frames. Cyclones starter Carlos Vazquez faced one over the minimum through the first three.
"His (Kingham's) last two or three outings have been solid," Spikes manager Kimera Bartee said of his starter's performance. "He was a little elevated tonight, but battled through it. It was a good night for evaluation tonight."
State College was able to get to Vazquez in the fourth to take the lead. With one out, Chris Lashmet drew a walk and Alex Dickerson doubled on a laser to right field. Wes Freeman then dug into the batter's box looking to break the tie. He did just that. Freeman's three-run blast to left center field, his fourth of the season, gave State College a 3-0 lead.
Not to be outdone by Freeman's heroics, Brooklyn's Cole Frenzel cut into the Spikes' lead with a solo shot in the top of the fourth to cut the lead to 3-1.
State College gave away multiple base runners throughout the night. Vazquez picked off four Spikes runners through the first five innings. Bartee said Vazquez did not have a great move to first, but the Spikes took that for granted.
"He (Vazquez) kind of exposed us and we got complacent," Bartee said. "On each pick off we weren't stealing. We just got relaxed in the mind and it happened three times. Tonight, the lack of base running allowed us not to pull away."
The Cyclones added two more in the sixth on a sacrifice fly from Javier Rodriguez and an RBI single by Brian Harrison to knot the score at three.
State College then lost the lead in the seventh on a few defensive mistakes. Brooklyn's Danny Muno slapped a single to right to lead off the inning. Mike Jefferson was the pitcher at the time for the Spikes and his slow leg kick allowed Muno to steal second base easily. On the next pitch, Muno attempted to steal third and Spikes catcher Samuel Gonzalez's throw rolled into left field, allowing Muno to score and make it 4-3.
Down a run heading into the second half of the eighth, the Spikes were looking to mount a comeback. Walker Gourley started the inning with a single back through the box then advanced to second on Ashley Ponce's sacrifice bunt. Alex Fuselier then singled to score Gourley and tie the game at four. Fuslier moved up to second on an attempted play at the plate.
After a strikeout, Lashmet singled and it looked like the Spikes would take the lead. Fuslier rounded third and was gunned down by right fielder Charley Thurber, ending the inning.
Vince Payne entered the game in the ninth to try and hold the game at in a tie. Payne proceeded to hit his first batter, Rodriguez, in the shoulder to move Rodriguez to first.
However, Rodriguez was not pleased with Payne's control early in the ninth. The Cyclone left fielder gestured to Payne and was held back from charging the mound by Gonzalez. Both benches and bullpens cleared with a brawl about to break out at home plate. After a few minutes of pushing and shoving, the two teams cleared the field and were ready to get back to baseball.
"When he (Payne) got caught up in that, his emotions got to him," Bartee said. "It's tough for a young kid to control that and it's a good learning experience for him."
After the hit by pitch, Richard Lucas walked and both runners moved up on Thurber's sacrifice bunt. Harrison was then hit by another Payne fastball to load the bases. That set the stage for Travis Taijeron. Taijeron sent a rocket to right field that just cleared the wall for a grand slam that make the lead 8-4.
"His emotions cost him tonight and it's going to happen again," Bartee said. "He has to settle down and be professional enough to get his mind down and it's just a learning experience for him."
The big home run blow was the gap Brooklyn needed to conceal the win against the Spikes. The Spikes added their final run in the bottom of the ninth on a Derek Trent single.
State College has today off and will travel to Tri-City for a three-game set scheduled to start Wednesday.