UNIVERSITY PARK — The team that hasn’t homered in two weeks and struggled just to get a hit Sunday gathered in the dugout before the ninth inning.
The message directed toward the State College Spikes was succinct: They must grind their way to a positive offensive result. An inning after the impromptu meeting, the Spikes manufactured the only run they need to defeat the Batavia Muckdogs and snap a three-game losing streak.
Chris Diaz’s single past a drawn-in infield scored Rodarrick Jones, completing a 1-0, 10-inning victory at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, where the Spikes are 6-0 this season.
The game marked the first time in the Spikes’ seven-year history they entered a 10th inning tied 0-0.
“It’s always fun being in an extra-inning game,” Diaz said. “It’s always intense. That’s why you play baseball because you love it, and it’s always fun to have that type of game and give the fans what they came for.”
Those in the crowd of 3,709 fans expecting dynamic offense left disappointment. Neither the Spikes (8-6) nor the Muckdogs (6-8) produced an extra-base hit.
Still, the Spikes are staying afloat without wall-clearing blasts or gap shots.
The 10th inning displayed their opportunistic side. Jones worked into a 2-2 count and drove a Dyllon Nuernberg fastball into center field for just his second hit in 26 at-bats. D.J. Crumlich then dropped a sacrifice bunt and catcher Jesus Montero fired the ball past 6-foot-5 first baseman David Washington and into shallow right field.
With Jones standing on third, Batavia manager Dann Bilardello ordered his infield in. Diaz sent a hard grounder past shortstop Anthony Melchionda and into left field. Teammates mobbed Diaz after he touched first.
“Coaches have actually been talking about grinding, grinding every day through practice and into games,” said Jones, a right fielder who made a sliding catch in foul territory during the fifth. “Before the bottom of the ninth, it was like, ‘It’s either going to happen this inning or the next inning.’ We didn’t get it in the ninth. Luckily, we came out in the 10th and finished it.”
Another strong start from 17-year-old Luis Heredia and steady bullpen work camouflaged nine innings of feeble offense.
Heredia’s third New York-Penn League start included few blemishes. He allowed three singles, walked none and struck out three in five innings. The right-hander the Pittsburgh Pirates signed for $2.6 million in 2010 has surrendered just one earned run in 14 innings (a 0.64 ERA).
His fastball Sunday clocked between 92 and 94 mph, and he mixed four changeups and five curveballs into a 72-pitch outing. Only one Muckdog advanced past second base against Heredia, who faced 18 batters, three past the five-inning minimum.
“I’m working really hard on throwing down in the zone and I’m throwing a better changeup now and competing,” he said. “I like it here.”
Josh Smith, Kyle Haynes and Jordan Cooper continued the rhythm established by Heredia. Smith allowed two hits in two innings, Haynes worked out of a bases-loaded situation with two outs in the ninth and Cooper tossed a perfect 10th to earn the victory.
“Luis set the tone and put them in a funk, and the bullpen was allowed to continue it, especially with young hitters,” Spikes manager Dave Turgeon said. “You get those guys down, and the next thing you know we are in the 10th inning with nothing but zeroes.”
The Spikes’ young hitters encountered similar problems against crafty left-hander Tyler Melling and right-handers Joe Scanio and Brandon Creath. Melling allowed two hits in 52/ 3 innings and escaped a difficult situation when Barrett Barnes bounced into a fielder’s choice with one out and the bases loaded in the sixth. Scanio induced a groundout to end the inning.
The Spikes didn’t get another runner to third until Montero’s error in the 10th.
“Both teams looked pretty tired,” Crumlich said. “There weren’t a lot of good swings out there. Both pitching staffs did well. We had to find a way to get a ‘W’ and we did.”
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy