Spikes short on offense in season debut

STATE COLLEGE – The State College Spikes couldn’t put together enough offense to muster a comeback as the Williamsport Crosscutters held on for a 4-2 victory Monday night in the season opener for both teams at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

The Crosscutters held the Spikes to seven hits total and none were for extra bases. Designated hitter Trevor Martin was the lone Spike with multiple hits as he collected two singles but it wasn’t enough on a night that Williamsport’s pitching staff was able to work cleanly out of trouble en route to leaving eight Spikes stranded on base throughout the game.

Williamsport plated its first run of the game in the second inning when Gabriel Lino singled home Zach Green with two outs, a trend that would continue throughout the contest as the Crosscutters scored their first three runs all with two outs.

After pitching a scoreless third inning, State College starter Juan Bautista ran into more two-out trouble in the fourth. After fanning Samuel Hiciano, the right-hander gave up a single to Logan Pierce followed by a Lino line drive that one-hopped the fence in right field.

However, State College right fielder Matt Young made one of the more impressive defensive plays of the night as he quickly retrieved the ball and gunned Lino out at second base. With two outs and Pierce on third, Bautista appeared to be on track to get out of the inning unscathed.

But a single from Justin Parr easily scored Pierce and a well-placed bloop double from Gustavo Martinez into left field moved Parr to third. Spikes first baseman David Washington then booted a routine grounder that would have ended the inning but instead scored Parr, extending the lead to 3-0 before Bautista was finally able to get out of the inning.

“When you do that enough, you win ball games, and that’s what hurt us tonight,” said State College manager Oliver Marmol of the Crosscutters’ timely, two-out base knocks. “Those guys did a good job of having a two-strike approach, especially with two outs, and that’s when they scored their runs. It definitely hurt us.”

The Spikes were able to strike back in the bottom half of the fourth after Cesar Valera and Bruce Caldwell opened the inning with back-to-back singles. Pierce, playing first base for Williamsport, made a wild throw to second base after fielding a Washington grounder and the ball rolled away from shortstop Angelo Mora, allowing Valera to score. Ronald Castillo’s swinging bunt back to the mound advanced the runners to second and third, allowing Carson Kelly’s groundout to score Caldwell and make it a 3-2 ballgame.

That was as close as the Spikes would get. Williamsport starter Mitch Gueller exited after five innings having allowed two runs, none earned, and the bullpen came through for him by not allowing State College to score for the remainder of the game.

Manny Martinez pitched scoreless fifth and sixth innings and Robert Marcello pitched a clean eighth before giving way to closer Tyler Buckley, who shut the door on a Spikes comeback even after a one-out single from Martin gave the club some hope. However, a weak popout from Alex DeLeon and a harmless Jimmy Bosco grounder to second ended the threat and nailed down the save for Buckley.

The lack of offense overshadowed a solid performance by Spikes relievers Jhonny Polanco and Willy Paulino, who combined to give up just one run in four innings to keep the home team within striking distance.

“(Polanco) did a very nice job, and that’s kind of expected of him,” said Marmol of Polanco. “He runs his fastball up there pretty good and he kept his composure. We’re excited to see what he’s gonna be able to do this year.”

Marmol believes opening day nerves may have played a factor in the less-than-stellar offensive performance.

“First day, everybody’s a little anxious,” he said. “It’s good to get that out of the way and get rid of the nerves. You can never win them all.”

Gueller (1-0) earned the win for Williamsport and Bautista (0-1) receives the loss.

The contest was the first one for the Spikes in their second stint as an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. The club originated in 2006 as a Cardinals affiliate before becoming a Pittsburgh Pirates affiliate from 2007-2012.

The three-game series continues tomorrow as State College travels to Williamsport’s Historic Bowman Field. Right-hander Drew Perry will get the start for the Spikes and his counterpart for the matchup will be Williamsport right-hander Drew Anderson.