STATE COLLEGE - Quite possibly the hardest thing to do in baseball is close out a championship series.
The State College Spikes learned that the hard way after dropping a 5-4 decision to Tri-City Wednesday night in Game 2 of the New York-Penn League Championship Series at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The Spikes face the Valley Cats tonight at 7:05 in the decisive third game of the NYPL title tilt.
Sentinel photo by CHRISTOPHER?SHANNON
State College’s Mason Katz, right, dives back to first base as Tri-City first baseman Conrad Gregor waits for the throw during the Spikes’ NYPL Championship Series contest against the Valley Cats Thursday evening at Medlar Field.
"This game was about poor execution on our part. We talked about the details of the game in the playoffs are really important," State College manager Oliver Marmol said. "Our jumps weren't good when we tried to steal and we didn't execute well with our bunts. We didn't execute well with certain pitches in key situations. Add all of that together and you get a loss."
Tri-City struck early with a blast to straight center by Conrad Gregor in the second inning for the 1-0 lead. It was Gregor's second homer of the playoffs.
The Valley Cats jumped out to a 5-0 lead with a four-run sixth inning and held on for dear life.
Jack Mayfield led off the frame with a double to left and Tyler White's sacrifice bunt moved him over to second. Gregor singled Mayfield home for his second RBI of the game, Brian Holberton singled to put runners on second, and third, chasing Spikes losing pitcher Nick Petree (0-2).
"Petree did a decent job tonight," Marmol said. "He just got tired. He's coming off a long college season. He was grinding away. He gave us everything he had. Overall, he's been solid all season."
Jon Kemmer doubled off Chase Brookshire to plate Holberton, while Ronnie Mitchell followed with a two-run double to right for the five-run lead.
"It's a huge win, obviously. It gave us a chance to play tomorrow for the championship," Tri-City manager Ed Romero said. "We were fortunate to be able to keep the lead. It almost got away from us, but our pitching and bullpen has been outstanding all year and they came through again."
State College battled back with a four spot of its own in the bottom of the sixth to cut the deficit to 5-4.
Steven Ramos led off with a base hit, Cesar Valera reached after being hit by pitcher Michael Feliz and Luke Voit walked to load the bases. David Washington, who led the Spikes with 50 RBIs in the regular season, hit a bloop single to left, scoring Ramos.
Carson Kelly made it 5-2 with a sac fly plating Valera. Voit scored on an error, while Luis Perez singled to score Washington. Unfortunately, the Spikes couldn't come up with any offense the rest of the way.
Spikes reliever Jhonny Polanco pitched two-plus innings of solid relief to keep Tri-City off the board and give State College a chance to win.
"He did a nice job. He had some life in his fastball, he gave us a shot and kept us in the game," Marmol said. "We just couldn't capitalize on key offensive situations. We just have to go get them tomorrow."
Valley Cats closer Gonzalo Sanudo pitched a scoreless two innings to end State College's hopes and force Game 3 of the series. Sanudo is now 11-for-11 in save opportunities this season. Feliz improved to 1-0 in the post-season with the victory.
"Sanudo has been outstanding since he got here three weeks ago. He's been a horse out of the pen," Romero said. "These are two good teams with solid pitching and defense. They are going to be close games. We have to go out there nice and calm, play our game, and play with heart. We have to just go for it."
Gregor led Tri-City at the plate, going 3-for-4 on the night. Teammate Jack Mayfield was 2-for-4 with two doubles and Chan Moon was 2-for-4 with a triple. Washington led the Spikes with two hits.
The Valley Cats finished with 14 hits and left 10 men on base. The Spikes ended with eight hits and left seven men on base.
"If you were to write it up that the way you do it, right?" Marmol responded when asked about the third and final game of the NYPL season. "We're excited about it. Obviously, we wanted to win it tonight, but these guys are competitors and they will come back tomorrow ready to go."
State College will send Jimmy Reed (0-0, 6.00 ERA) to the mound to face Chris Munnelly (1-0, 0.00 ERA) for Tri-City.