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Cutters can’t cash in on perfect ending

STATE COLLEGE — It was one of those movie script moments baseball so often provides in the eighth inning Sunday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

Kendall Simmons stepped into the right-hand batter’s box second in the New York-Penn League in home runs, and tied for fourth on the Williamsport Crosscutters’ single-season record book. State College pitcher Jack Ralston was honored before the Spikes’ home finale as the team’s pitcher of the year.

Williamsport trailed by four. The bases were loaded.

The bases stayed loaded. Ralston created his own jam with a pair of two-out walks, but he escaped it by getting Simmons to ground out to third base as the potential tying run. It was as close as the Cutters got to State College as the Spikes posted six eighth-inning runs in an 11-1 win.

With their playoff hopes dashed with Saturday’s loss to Williamsport, the Spikes finished their home slate with a 23-16 record at Medlar Field. Sunday’s victory in front of more than 5,500 fans in the season’s penultimate game guaranteed the Spikes a winning record for the sixth time in seven seasons as a St. Louis Cardinals affiliate.

“It’s been a great crowd this summer,” said Ralston, who threw two scoreless innings. “And it was a lot of fun with the fans getting into it.”

Ralston’s eighth inning was less than spectacular, and started off as just another innocuous inning despite Nicolas Torres’ leadoff single. But then he walked Bryson Stott on five pitches. Jake Holmes then walked on four pitches and all of a sudden Ralston was really in trouble.

The 22-year-old seventh-round pick out of UCLA got a visit from pitching coach Adrian Martin with Simmons stepping to the plate. State College’s 5-1 lead was all of a sudden in peril. But Ralston needed just two pitches to end the threat. A fastball for strike one set up a breaking ball which Simmons rolled to third base to end the inning.

State College then sent 12 batters to the plate in the bottom half of the inning to put the game away.

“The mound visit kind of calmed me down,” Ralston said. “We went over the gameplan really quick because I kind of got out of it in the two batters before that. But I got back to what I do best. I got back to my strengths.”

“Simmons hit that ball hard, but he hit it right at the guy,” Cutters manager Pat Borders said. “The last inning blew everything out, but we could have changed everything with one big hit.”

It wasn’t as if that eighth-inning spot was the only scoring opportunity for Williamsport last night. It had runners on base in seven of its nine at-bats and stranded runners on base in the second through seventh innings. The Cutters recorded eight hits and worked eight walks from State College pitching. But they were just 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and stranded 14 runners on base.

It was just that kind of night for Williamsport. For all the good it did working counts, hitting the ball hard and earning baserunners, there never was that big hit to really springboard the offense. Of the eight walks Cutters hitters earned, none of them scored.

The only Williamsport run last night came when Mitch Edwards and Corbin Williams laced back-to-back doubles. In the top of the fifth inning.

“We had a lot of base runners. We hit several balls hard,” Borders said. “It’s how baseball is. You can do everything right and you still might not get the result you want.”

“It’s not great to give up that many walks, but it’s good that none scored,” Ralston said. “But to put that many runners on and still get out of those problems is still the most important thing.”

State College was able to figure out how to escape innings without letting runners score, but Williamsport pitching wasn’t as fortunate. Of the seven walks handed out by pitchers Junior Tejada, Jose Conopoima, Jake Kinney and Alejandro Made, six of them scored.

Tejada’s outing was spoiled by a two-run home run on his seventh pitch of the bottom of the first inning. Terry Fuller’s 394-foot no-doubter gave the Spikes an early 2-0 lead. Two innings later, Stanley Espinal flipped a two-out, two-run double down the right-field line to push the lead to 4-0.

The two teams will play one final game this afternoon at Williamport’s Bowman Field when they meet for the season finale at 1:05 p.m.

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