Clutch hitting delivers win for Spikes

STATE COLLEGE – Starting pitcher Jimmy Reed and the Spikes didn’t get the opening they were looking for in Wednesday’s rubber match against the Williamsport Crosscutters.

With the game scoreless in the top of the second, Reed’s own error on what would have been a routine 3-1 ground out put Andrew Knapp on first, then a walk to Logan Pierce put two Crosscutters on base. Three at bats later, Knapp and Pierce were both home on RBI singles by Justin Parr and Gustavo Martinez to give the Crosscutters the 2-0 lead.

But even if the Spikes didn’t get the start they wanted, they did get the desired finish. With the final score at 8-3, State College worked off clutch hitting and strong relief pitching to take their season-opening series two games to one.

The Spikes hit at the right times and they hit often – outdoing the Crosscutters 16-9 in that category – and they harvested the first fruits of their labor in the bottom of the fourth, when Luke Voit, Michael Schulze and Steven Ramos all crossed the plate for the 3-2 lead.

The inning began with a single past Jairo Cardozo at short stop by Voit on two outs. With a runner on base, the Spikes took advantage when Schulze ripped one to deep right center for a double, putting Voit at third. In the next at bat, Ramos found one he liked on a 2-2 count and drove it to left field to bring home Voit. Schulze scored when left fielder Justin Parr misplayed the ball on the same play. From there, Jimmy Bosco came through in the top of the order, lining one to right field to bring Ramos home for the 3-2 lead.

“It was nice to see (the clutch hitting). We had some opportunities in the last game where we didn’t come through,” Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said.

However, that’s not the way it was Wednesday, and in the next inning, the Spikes added some cushion to their lead putting up three more runs for the 6-2 score. Bruce Caldwell and David Washington got things started with back to back singles, then Ronald Castillo looped one into right field to bring home Caldwell. From there, Carson Kelly lined one past short stop to load the bases and Voit took advantage when he put one in play with a grounder to first baseman Logan Pierce, who lost track of the play and didn’t make a throw anywhere, keeping the bases loaded and allowing Washington to score for the 5-2 lead.

Schulze then put up a sacrifice fly to left to bring home Castillo, making the first sacrifice fly of the season for the Spikes. The Spikes also scored runs in the seventh off a wild pitch from Chris Burgess and one in the eighth when an RBI single to center field by Castillo brought home Caldwell. Castillo and Caldwell both finished 4-for-5 on the evening.

The Crosscutters’ only other score was in the top of the eighth when Dylan Cozens, who had reached on a walk issued by Kyle Webb, advanced to second on a single from Knapp, then crossed home on a line drive up the middle by Pierce.

Williamsport did have a few chances, but the Spikes’ relief pitching came through strong to shut the Crosscutters down.

Kevin Herget was the first to relieve Reed beginning in the top of the third, and he went 3 1/3 innings to hold the Crosscutters scoreless on three hits for the win. In the top of the sixth, Williamsport’s Pierce ended Herget’s run when he sent the Spikes’ left fielder Jimmy Bosco chasing a fly ball all the way to the warning track, but Bosco caught it over his shoulder for the first out of the inning. From there, State College’s Mitch Harris came in to finish the inning.

Harris, who is the oldest member of the Spikes’ roster after serving in the Navy before beginning his baseball career, finished the Crosscutters’ threat in short order, recording a strikeout and forcing a fly to center field to end the top half of the inning.

Harris pitched through the top of the seventh before being replaced by Webb. He recorded outs against all five batters he faced.

“It was very exciting. It was kind of a long time coming,” Harris said of his first professional action. “To face five guys and get five outs is ideal. I was really happy about that, I just wanted to make sure I looked good and threw the pitches I wanted to throw, and that’s what happened.”

Webb allowed one run on two hits and closer Willy Paulino retired the top three batters in the top of the ninth, including one strikeout, to close out the game.

“It feels good. It feels good to get your first win yesterday and get our first series. It’s a way to get the guys confident,” Marmol said.