Spikes return to field for first time since 2019
UNIVERSITY PARK — Not even cold, dreary weather could dampen the State College Spikes return to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park after COVID-19 wiped away the 2020 season.
The Spikes rally fell just short as they dropped a 6-5 decision to a familiar foe in the Williamsport Crosscutters in the club’s inaugural game of the newly formed MLB Draft League on Monday night.
State College (0-1) received a three-run double down the left-field line by James Jett to get back within striking distance and a bases-loaded walk by Cameron Lee in the eighth brought the Spikes within a run, but the Spikes couldn’t overcome a pair of three-run innings by the Crosscutters in the season opener.
Pitchers ruled the evening with strikeouts reigning supreme as 31 hitters struck out in the contest. State College struck out 18 times on the night. Regardless of the outcome, just getting back to baseball in Happy Valley was a victory in and of itself.
“Regardless of the league and players, opening day is always exciting,” Spikes’ manager Delwyn Young said. “I hate to say that it is more exciting because we are in this league, but just the chance to watch a kid go out and play baseball, especially with the year they had last year, it was phenomenal.”
Williamsport (1-0) struck for three in the second, two of which came on a two-run double by Trey Steffler. Steffler later scored on a fielding error by Spikes’ pitcher Andrew Moore to give the Crosscutters the early advantage.
The Crosscutters scored another three in the fourth, using an RBI single to left field by Isaac Nunez, a single to shortstop by Jacob Teter and a fielder’s choice by Jaxon Shirley to make it 6-0.
State College finally broke through for a run in the fifth, scoring a run on two hits with Lee driving in a run on an infield single to shortstop.
The Spikes added three more in the seventh on Jett’s double to make it 6-4, before a two out bases-loaded walk by Lee brought the Spikes within one. State College got a lead-off walk from Jett in the ninth before he stole second base to get into scoring position. The Spikes stranded Jett at second base as three consecutive strikeouts by Williamsport’s Ben Terwilliger finished off the night.
Young made multiple substitutions throughout the night and emptied the bench, giving players different opportunities to come in and produce in certain situations. Brady Brecklin came through as reserve on Monday, singling to right field before coming around to score the Spikes’ run in the eighth.
“Tonight, we wanted to get as many guys as possible in the game,” Young said. “You don’t want anyone sitting on Opening Day. Opening Day is something special, at least to me, and I don’t think everyone should just watch. It’s difficult at times, but it’s easier when you get some feedback. I’m going to try and get everyone a chance to play so that these guys can showcase their skillsets to Happy Valley.”
The Spikes used Monday night’s game as a bit of a feeling-out process, as the players just reported to the clubhouse on Saturday, so just trying to figure out which players can thrive in certain situations with an unfamiliar roster presents a challenge.
“It’s a feel,” Young said of getting to know his team on the fly. “We’ve only known each other for 48 hours and I’m trying to get as much feedback from them as I can. I’m going into this season with them, and they’re tired of me saying this, but as long as I don’t make too many mistakes, we will be OK.
“I think managing field positions comes somewhat natural since I played every position,” Young added. “As far as pitching changes are concerned, being an infielder and being a catcher, you know when the pitcher is done physically. Maybe not as far as a pitch count but it’s a little bit different as a coach when you have that pitch count.”
Williamsport’s Ryan Velazquez got the victory on the mound, throwing two innings in relief in which he allowed just two hits and one run, while striking out five batters.
State College received three strong innings out of the bullpen from Chris Wall who threw three scoreless innings in relief. Wall stuck out four batters, walked two and surrendered just one hit. Kiernan Higgins struck out the side in the ninth inning after a lead-off walk. Higgins’ final strikeout retired the Big Mac strikeout guy, sending the Spikes’ opening night crowd into a frenzy.
RETURN TO BASEBALL
The Spikes and Crosscutters’ season opener marked the first game for the Spikes’ franchise as a member of the MLB Draft League in its inaugural season. The game was the first game for the Spikes in 631 days at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The MLB Draft League season will consist of a 68-game regular season with 34 home games for State College. Other members of the MLB Draft League include the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, the Frederick Keys, the Trenton Thunder, the West Virginia Black Bears and the Crosscutters.
The newly formed draft league was formed with the premise of giving players that are eligible for the draft a long-term audition for MLB scouts ahead of the draft that will take place July 11-13. The season also marks the beginning of the State College Spikes’ 15th season of baseball in Happy Valley.
“Having the team here is great for the city,” Young said. “It’s a big city and a big sports city so to have baseball is great. As far as the rest of it, we need to learn how to develop day by day. We need to use certain situations in the game as learning and teaching moments.”
State College at Williamsport, today at 7:05 p.m. at Williamsport’s Bowman Field.