Spikes sweep twinbill against Cutters

Spikes’ shortstop Edwin Figuera (7) tags out Williamsport’s Christian Valerio on a pick-off from the pitcher during Thursday’s game in State College.

STATE COLLEGE — The sound off was the familiar click. The unmistakable sound of a baseball launched into orbit.

State College’s Dariel Gomez knew without a doubt the baseball was gone. So did Williamsport pitcher Blake Bennett. Gomez’s 370-foot rocket gave the Spikes a 7-6, walk-off win in the nightcap of a Thursday doubleheader at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

The blast also finished off a twinbill sweep as the Spikes rode a four-run first inning to a 7-4 win in the opener.

State College improved to 6-1 with the victory, the best start through seven games in franchise history. The previous best was 5-2.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Gomez said. “It’s probably the best feeling I’ve had in baseball until now. It felt so good off the bat. Especially after going 0-for-6 before that, I got it in my head and said this is your moment right now, don’t give up.”

Gomez needed just one pitch to do his damage against Bennett. He wasn’t necessarily looking to ambush a pitch or looking to even hit a home run. In fact, Gomez just wanted to get something into the gap so he could bring in the runner on second or even tie the game by driving in both runners.

Instead, Gomez got all of the upper-80s fastball Bennett offered. The ball had an exit velocity of 105.8 mph. It was the second home run for Gomez. The first was a 426-foot blast in Williamsport on Tuesday, which helped the Spikes post a 4-2, 10-inning win.

Gomez’s State College teammates formed a celebratory mosh pit around the plate and doused the 22-year-old mountain of a man with a Gatorade bucket before he participated in a postgame interview.

“Baseball is like life. You’re always going to get other chances, but you have to be ready for it,” Gomez said. “If I was going up there with my head down, I wouldn’t be able to do that. But that was me giving my team a chance to win the game.”

A split of the doubleheader would have been best-cast scenario for Williamsport after it coughed up a three-run lead in the opener. And the Cutters looked to be in control of the nightcap after it rallied from a 2-0 deficit. Edgar Made gave Williamsport a 3-2 lead when he launched a two-run home run into the right-field bleachers in the fourth inning.

But the Cutters didn’t let off the gas there. D.J. Stewart delivered a two-run triple in the sixth inning, and Logan O’Hoppe added an RBI one batter later for a 6-2 lead over the Spikes. But State College chipped away with seemingly two innocuous runs.

With a light, but annoying rain falling, Connor Litton missed an inning-opening ground ball to start the seventh. Then Stanley Espinal ripped a single past Made at third. Bennett had given himself an opportunity to get out of the inning with a can-of-corn fly ball and a strikeout of Donivan Williams before Gomez hit the walk-off home run.

State College’s 6-1 record is the best in the league.

“We’ve had some big games where we came from behind,” Gomez said. “I think this will help us continue this momentum going forward. This is big momentum for us. Being able to win these two games and sweep the series, it’s pretty big for us.”

Williamsport hitters were just never able to figure out State College pitching in the opener. It scored three runs in the first inning off State College pitcher Inohan Paniagua and even drove the starter out of the game seven batters in.

But as it has at times early in the season, the Cutters’ offense sputtered. They wasted the opportunities they did have, failing to put the ball in play in back-to-back at-bats with two runners on base in the fifth inning. They then grounded into an inning-ending double play with runners on the corners in the sixth inning. It was the eighth time this year Williamsport has grounded into a double play, most in the New York-Penn League.

The only hiccup from the State College bullpen was an unearned run in the top of the seventh inning when Nicolas Torres scored Christian Valerio with an RBI groundout. Otherwise, Michael Baird, Martin Cordova and Rodard Avelino combined on 6 1/3, two-hit innings. Baird struck out six over his four innings of relief.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander gave the Spikes the stability they needed after starter Paniagua lasted just 2/3 of an inning before reaching his organizational limit of 35 pitches in an inning.

Logan Simmons’ sacrifice fly in the first inning was followed by RBI doubles from Juan Aparicio and Nick Matera. But Williamsport starter Rafael Carvajal, a 2018 NYPL All-Star, couldn’t hold that lead. The first four State College batters of the first inning reached base, and all of them scored.

First Espinal drove in two of his three runs with a single to right-center. Matt Duce added an RBI double, and Pedro Pages grounded out, scoring a run. From there, the State College bullpen did the rest.

“Our pitching has been really good this year,” Gomez said. “We can swing the bats, so as long as we keep pitching, we’re going to have a chance because our guys can hit it.”