STATE COLLEGE - If State College Spikes manager Kimera Bartee was looking for some energy from his club after a lackadaisical effort in a loss to Jamestown Tuesday night, his club provided some right out of the chute twenty-four hours later.
Putting together three hits and a pair of walks, the Spikes, sparked by a leadoff inside-the-park home run by Junior Sosa, exploded for three runs in the bottom of the first for a 3-1 lead and they never looked back, as they defeated the Jammers Wednesday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Contributing the big hits for the Spikes were Sosa, Wes Freeman with an RBI single to right and an RBI triple to left by Matt Skirving.
"We got (energy) right out of the gate," Bartee said. "The guys went out there and swung the bats from the get go and it is always exciting when that happens, albeit for just one inning. But regardless of it only lasting one inning, it was better than in the past so we'll take it. We'll keep battling from here on out."
As for the inside-the-park home run, Bartee said it was a huge factor in his club getting out of the starting blocks.
"It is something you don't see every day," Bartee said. "When that happens you have to take advantage of it, not only to give you some energy, but also some momentum. We were able to put a couple more on that and as it turned out, it was really, really crucial that we did."
With divisional honors not even a possibility for the Spikes, Bartee feels the Spikes still have a few things they could accomplish down the stretch.
"I just told the boys to set their sights on Batavia because we legitimately have a chance to catch them," he said. "If they win the series tomorrow and they battle with Williamsport for three, we face the team (Batavia) that is the closest to us for four games. That gives a chance to pass the team right in front of us. There is always something to play for and that is kind of where we are setting our sights now."
If there has been a bright spot for State College in a lackluster season it has been the pitching. Wednesday night, the Spikes got a good start from Matt Benedict followed up by some solid work out of the bullpen by Jesus Brito and Josh Poytress.
Benedict worked the first five innings to pick up his third win in six decisions, the righthander scattering three hits, walking none and striking out nobody. Brito and Poytress combined to allow just two hits, striking out a pair in their combined four innings out of the bullpen.
"Our pitching has been our back bone all season," said Bartee. "More times than not, they have been the ones who stepped up when we needed it the most. We had to rely on them shutting the opponent down more than we had to rely on our hitters stretching it out. They (the pitchers) have done a great job and it seems like every night they are involved in a close game. The fact that they keep their poise and have kept us in games, day in and day out, is a testament to them. They have shown a lot of guts this season."
Benedict also felt the inside-the-park home run was a big catalyst to the team getting off to a fast start.
"I think it got us going," Benedict said. "It created a lot of early excitement and it helped us get our three runs."
Despite his success on the mound, Benedict was quick to allude to the fact that he wasn't necessarily on top of his game.
"I felt that tonight was one of those nights, that early in the season might have ended differently," he said. "I didn't have my best stuff and wasn't locating as well as I normally do, but the results were good and I'll definitely take that when I can get it."
While the Spikes aren't going anywhere as a team, Bartee is hoping that his players realize that most of them are playing for a job next season.
"They should be," Bartee chuckled about playing for their future. "Late August are considered the dog days of minor league baseball. If we don't have guys who can face and push the wall in August, we have no shot in developing them for guys to do the same thing for Pittsburgh in September. This stage of the season is an important time for evaluation."
The teams will conclude the three-game series tonight with a single game set for a 7:05 first pitch. The Spikes will send Ryan Hafner (2-4) to the hill while the Jammers will counter with Helpi Reyes (0-5).