Walk-off win for Spikes on bad pitch

Toerner plays hero with dash to home plate

Sentinel photo by STEVE MANUEL
West Virginia’s Grant Koch, right, slides under Spikes catcher Alexis Wilson’s tag to score during Wednesday’s game in State College.

UNIVERSITY PARK — State College twice erased one-run deficits and after a deflating end to the eighth, the Spikes didn’t make the same mistake twice in a 3-2 walk-off win over West Viriginia in New York-Penn League baseball Wednesday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

It started as an innocent infield single with Spikes’ Justin Toerner legging out the throw from Black Bears’ third baseman Melvin Jimenez with one out in the final inning.

Edwin Figuera then did his job by moving Toerner up into scoring position with a charging Zack Kone getting the fielder’s choice at first before the Bears opted to intentionally walk Nick Dunn.

The Spikes loaded the bases on a full-count walk worked by Kevin Woodall Jr. to setup the heroics.

Bears’ pitcher Will Gardner bounced a pitch well in front of the plate and it rolled to the backstop, allowing the speedy Toerner to easily beat the throw back and give Spikes their fourth consecutive win.

“It was one of those games. Their guy pitched well, our guy pitched well,” Spikes manager Joe Kruzel said. “Both teams had some opportunities. They took advantage of their few opportunities that they had. We probably had a few more opportunities to score earlier in the game and didn’t take advantage of those, but we came up with the big hit in the eighth to tie the game up and then those guys had some really, really good at-bats there in the ninth and we were fortunate enough the ball just bounced off enough of the catcher’s glove to turn in the game.”

The Spikes nearly didn’t need the ninth inning heroics to happen.

In the home half of the eighth, the Spikes got a leadoff single from Brady Whalen, who went the other way to left. He took second on the play as Black Bears’ left fielder Edison Lantigua had a tough time coming up with the ball.

Stanley Espinal worked a four-pitch walk to set the Spikes up nicely and force the Black Bears’ hand with manager Brian Esposito going with Gardner in relief to get them out of the jam.

Wadye Ynfante didn’t need any time to see what Gardner needed, hitting a double to right-center field on the first pitch he saw. That scored Whalen, but a good relay nailed Espinal at the plate as he tried to be the go-ahead run.

Ynfante advanced to third on the play, and attempted to score on a wild pitch, but the ball ricocheted in favor of catcher Grant Koch and the Black Bears. It looked as if Ynfante avoided the tag by getting his foot in the upper right-hand corner, just out of Koch’s reach. He was, however, called out on the play ending the Spikes’ rally and attempt for its first lead of the contest.

While using the entire game to score the three runs needed, none of it would have been possible without the stellar pitching and defense the Spikes had on display all night.

Starting pitcher Diego Cordero pitched 7 2/3 innings for State College, allowing two runs — both earned — off seven hits and one walk. He wasn’t racking up the strikeout totals fans see these days with the low scoring affair, getting the Bears to hit into 10 flyouts.

“He’s been pitching extremely well,” Kruzel said. “He does a lot of things right. He mixes his speeds well, he utilizes his secondary pitches at good times. He was able to locate his fastball when he needed to. At the same time, he was able to get quick outs, too. … He was into the eighth inning and I bet he didn’t throw 90 pitches.”

Indeed he didn’t as Kruzel opted to remove him from the game with 86 pitches thrown.

Cordero wasn’t credited with the win; that honor went to Troy Montemayor (2-1) for his 1 1/3 innings of relief.

Cordero’s final pitch of the game wound up going for the play of the game. Mike Gretler got a hold of one for the Black Bears, hitting it well into the left-center field gap. It looked like he would replace Daniel Amarel at second base, but Ynfante in center had other plans, going full extension to rob Gretler of an extra-base hit.

The Spikes got out of the jam with Montemoyer getting his only strikeout of the game.

Ynfante wasn’t the only one showing off his range and glove. Right fielder Toerner had a diving play to rob Amarel on the game’s first pitch. He along with Ynfanta each made a couple of impressive plays to keep the game close.

Toerner also had a 3-for-5 game at the plate.

“He’s done a tremendous job and you just like to watch him grow,” Kruzel said. “He sticks his nose in the game. He gives you really good at-bats and runs the bases well. He’s done a tremendous job for us.”

Toerner scored the Spikes’ first run of the game in the fifth when following a leadoff single, advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt. Edwin Figuera hit a high chopper out of the reach of a leaping Connor Kaiser at shortstop to tie the game.

Figuera, too, had a multi-hit game, going 2-for-5.

Toerner isn’t too surprised at his performance, saying he’s been working hard for the results seen Wednesday.

“I made a couple of adjustments. I was getting beat by fastballs so I’m trying to get my foot down earlier and drive the ball up the middle. It’s been working well so far,” he said. “I’ve always been a smaller guys, so whatever I can do to help the team win, I want to keep working hard. If I do that, good things should happen.”

The Black Bears scored their first run in the top of the fifth when Edison Lantigua hit a sacrifice fly to left to score Koch on his leadoff triple.

Their last run came an inning later when Brett Kinneman got into scoring position on Cordero’s first of two balks on pickoff attempts and Connor Kaiser singled to left to drive Kinneman in.