Holba helps Spikes extend winning streak to five

UNIVERSITY PARK — Just like hitting, winning can be contagious in the game of baseball. When you combine outstanding pitching with error-less defense and timely hitting, the result is usually a win.

After closing out their most recent road trip with four straight wins, State College returned to the friendly confines of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park Monday night as it made Batavia its fifth victim in a row with a solid 3-0 win before 2,235 fans.

“There is no doubt where these guys are right now,” Spikes manager Joe Kruzel said. “You can hear them over there (in the clubhouse). They played hard all year and although early on we had some games go the other way, they have stuck their noses into the ball games and battled all the way. We have been doing a nice job pitching as well as offensively and defensively, but it was just the case of coming up on the short end. But right now, they are playing with a little more looseness and you are seeing what they are capable of doing.”

Chris Holba was dominant on the slab for the Spikes.

Holba worked six innings, scattering four hits, striking out six and did not issue a single base on balls.

“I just kind of pitched to my strengths,” Holba said. “I just try to attack guys and trust my defense and tonight, they were there for me. I am just excited about being part of the Cardinals organization as to how they develop their pitchers. We have such a good group here that it makes it fun to come to work every day.”

As for the five wins in a row, Holba said it best. “Winning is a whole lot more fun than losing and right now we are winning.”

Kruzel was at no shortage of words for the Spikes’ starter.

“Holba kind of set the tone for us,” Kruzel said. “He went out there and forced them to put the ball in play and we were fortunate that we made the plays. We didn’t have too many stress innings and much traffic on the base paths. He did a great job of moving the ball around and controlling the counts. He also got some quick outs which allowed him to pitch deeper into the game.”

Taking over for Holba (2-1), Victor Villalobos was just as tough by working the final three innings to pick up the save — his first of the season.

“Villalobos picked up the old school save, the three-inning save,” Kruzel said. “He only allowed one hit while striking out five and that was good to see.”

The Spikes drew first blood with a run in the third inning.

Nick Dunn singled to center and scored when Stanley Espinal chased Dunn across the dish when he bounced into a 6-4-3 twin killing.

The Spikes doubled their lead with a run in the fourth and again it was Dunn figuring in the scoring play.

Justin Toerner drew a one-out walk and two batters later, Dunn ripped a line drive RBI single to center, chasing Toerner across the plate with the run.

“We are a little past the halfway point and I am starting to settle in a little more,” Dunn said. “I am just trying to stay within myself as much as possible and just put together good at-bats.”

Dunn has emerged as a first-pitch fastball hitter and so far it has been working for him.

“I didn’t lead off much in high school, but for me, my approach has always been to be aggressive at the plate,” he said. “Sometimes the first pitch of the at-bat will be the best pitch you will see so you have to always be ready to hit it.”

Already with two hits, Dunn almost made it three for the game when on his final at-bat, he squared up and barreled a pitch that was caught just in front of the fence in right field.

“It felt good coming off the bat. It just kind of hung up there and I just got under it a little bit,” explained Dunn.

Continuing to add on, the Spikes picked up another run in the fifth when Stanley Espinal walked and scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Toerner.

“We were fortunate in that we got some big hits,” Kruzel said. “We got our first run on that double play, but then we had some guys come through when we had the opportunities and that is really nice to see. It seems like they are clicking real good right now.”

As for Dunn, Kruzel likes what he is seeing from the former Shikellamy and University of Maryland product.

“He started swinging the bat with a little more authority on the recent road trip,” he said. “He got one in Lowell where he hooked it around Pesky’s Pole and he put a good charge in his last at-bat. It looked like the wind kind of knocked it down.

The same two teams will play the middle game of the three-game set tonight with a single game set for a 7:05 first pitch.

The Muckdogs will send Bryce Howe to the bump, while the Spikes will counter with Jacob Schlesener.