UNIVERSITY PARK — Tied game. No outs. Bottom of the sixth. A runner standing on first base.
Realizing one more run might win Sundays game against Mahoning Valley, Spikes manager Dave Turgeon ordered a hit-and-run. Realizing the Spikes penchant for manufacturing runs, Mahoning Valley manager Ted Kubiak ordered a pitchout.
Rigth-handed hitting catcher Ryan Hornback stepped toward first base and smacked Louis Heads pitchout foul, preventing the Scrappers from nailing Samuel Gonzalez at second base.
Unless its in the dirt you have to be able to try to hit it, Hornback said, and I tried to put the bat on the ball.
Thoughtful at-bats and early-season cohesion are two reasons why the Spikes are 5-2 after the 6-5 victory over the Scrappers at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. State College is now 5-0 at home.
Hornbacks at-bat ended with him drilling a hit-and-run single to right field that moved Gonzalez to third. Mahoning Valley second baseman Joe Wendle shuffled toward the base to keep pace with Gonzalez. Hornback hit the ball to where Wendle was positioned before Gonzalez moved. One at-bat later, Gonzalez scored, giving the Spikes a 4-3 lead.
Productive at-bats arent a fluke. Situational hitting is a major emphasis this summer.
As a team, we create competition in practice, Gonzalez said through translator Austin McClune. That way when a situation arises in a game its very easy and you feel comfortable with it.
The Spikes, who swept the Scrappers, are flourishing without a powerful lineup. Through one week, they are one of two New York-Penn League teams without a homer.
But they are 12-for-13 in stolen base attempts, own a league-high four sacrifice bunts and show little apprehension when Turgeon orders hit-and-runs. Turgeon said players work daily with hitting coach Dave Howard on handling various offensive situations.
He will run guys out of the cage if they are not executing probably, Turgeon said of Howard. He knows how to run that part of the game. He knows we have to play that part of the game well. Our guys that were with his in extended (spring training) have done a ton of work in that area, and the college guys obviously have been schooled also because they are putting up very professional at-bats in situational situations.
For a second straight night, the Spikes padded a lead in the eighth. Hornback tripled to right-center and scored on Yhonathan Barrios first hit of the season. Jared Lakind added an RBI single later in the inning. On Saturday, the Spikes scored five eighth-inning runs.
The runs were needed because Mahoning Valley scored twice off 10th-round draft pick Pat Ludwig in Sundays ninth.
Every inning we are trying to score, shortstop Chris Diaz said. Its never your winning and lay back. If they score one, you try to put one back. You are trying to beat them every inning.
Improved Joan Montero earned the win by pitching two scoreless relief innings. Montero, a hard-throwing right-hander who had an 8.06 ERA in State College last summer, has tossed 61/ 3 scoreless innings in 2012.
Hes a got a plus fastball with a good slider, a strikeout pitch, and a chagenup that gets hitters off balance, Hornback said. Hes throwing all three pitches right now.
Justin Ennis, another NY-PL veteran, needed just six pitches to toss a scoreless eighth. All six pitches were knuckleballs.
The Spikes won despite being outhit 10-8. Hornback, Gonzalez and Lakind had multiple hits.
The game will reveal what we really need to work on, Turgeon said. Right now when things are going really good offensively, it has a tendency to sugarcoat things a little bit. But believe me there will be points of emphasis with fundamentals every day of the week. Im glad to see how the guys respond. We played in a couple of close ballgames and I like how they compete.
Notes: Alex Fuselier returned to the lineup and played right field after missing five games with a concussion. Fuselier suffered the injury running into Williamsport manager Andy Tracy last Tuesday. ...The Spikes begin a six-game roadtrip tonight at Batavia. They play three games at Batavia and three at Mahoning Valley.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy