UNIVERSITY PARK — It was scored as an error, but Tyler Gaffney’s bullet past Aberdeen third baseman Torsten Boss was the winning hit to everyone in attendance at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Saturday night.
As soon the ball shot into left field and Jesus Vasquez bounded home with the winning run in State College’s 3-2 victory, the Spikes poured out of the dugout and engulfed Gaffney. like it that much.
It was a wild finish to a tense contest that saw the Spikes fall behind twice, come back twice, and then win dramatically in the bottom of the ninth.
“I knew he wasn’t going to throw a fastball,” Gaffney said, “so I was trying to sit for an off-speed, over the plate. He gave me one early. I didn’t
“He gave me a second one, and I was trying to get it down the line. I hit it hard and got on top of it and good things happen when you hit it hard.”
Those good things include a second straight win — the Spikes improved to 25-21 on the season — and a gain in playoff position, as State College is currently 3 1/2 games behind Brooklyn.
“That was a great finish,” Spikes manager Dave Turgeon said, “and it’s good to see Vasquez got on base just like we needed him to, (Jared) Lakind got him over, and Gaff got him in. We grinded through that game.”
Aberdeen scored right out of the box in the first inning. Greg Lorenzo reached on an error to open the game, stole second, and then moved to third after the pickoff attempt by Spikes’ pitcher Adrian Sampson skipped into center field. Lorenzo scored on the next pitch on a sacrifice fly by Lucas Herbst that gave the Ironbirds a 1-0 lead.
The Spikes threatened as well in the first inning. With one out, Walker Gourley, just off the disabled list, singled to center. He moved to second on an errant pickoff attempt, and then D.J. Crumlich walked.
Jacob Stallings followed with a seeing- eye single just inside the line in right field that loaded the bases with one out. Aberdeen pitcher Jorge Rivera was able to get Chris Diaz to pop out to second and then struck out Derek Trent to end the inning.
The Spikes tied the game in the fifth when Lakind singled with one out. He moved to second on a nice hit-and-run ground ball to second base by Jordaneli Carvajal and scored on an RBI single to right field by Tyler Gaffney, his seventh RBI on the season, that tied the game at 1-1.
The Spikes looked to take the lead in the sixth. Crumlich led off with a single, and after a fly out by Stallings, Diaz walked, putting runners at first and second with one out. Trent, looking to go long, just got under one and flew out to left. Jesus Vasquez was next, but before the first pitch to him, Ironbird pitcher Mark Blackmar caught Crumlich leaning toward third and picked him off for the third out.
Spikes’ pitcher Dalton Friend worked out of a jam in the seventh. Sam Kimmel and Creede Simpson led off the inning with singles. Anthony Vega then squared to bunt, but fouled off two chances before Friend struck him out with an inside fastball.
Anthony Caronia followed with a ground out to first base, moving both runners up with two outs.
Gregory Lorenzo, looking to put the Ironbirds ahead, lined a shot to deep right field that Spikes right fielder Vasquez made a diving, over the shoulder catch that ended the inning and saved two runs.
“That was a great catch,” Turgeon said. “He was playing where we wanted him to play. We weren’t going to get beaten with that cheap single with two outs in that situation. He goes back very well on those long balls.”
Aberdeen took the lead in the eighth. Lucas Herbst led the inning off with a double to right field. Spikes reliever Josh Smith then got Joel Hutter to ground out and Torsten boss to fly out. But he walked Cameron Edman, hit Sam Kimmel with a pitch, and then, on a 3-2 count, just missed on an outside fastball, walking Simpson and forcing in the go-ahead run.
The Spikes came right back in the bottom of the inning. Gaffney reached after being hit by a pitch — his 14th of the season — and then after two outs, Stallings worked a walk. Diaz then came through with a big two-out single to right field that scored Gaffney and tied the game at two.
“We know who we are. We know what we have to do,” Turgeon added. “We know that we are not going to hit the ball out of the park most nights. We are getting those sacrifice bunts down, and everyone in that clubhouse knows that every at bat is a team at bat.”
Vasquez singled to lead off the ninth, and Lakind laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move him to second. Carvajal grounded out to first, moving Vasquez to third and bring up Gaffney. Gaffney, on a 2-1 count, rocked a ball to left that scored Vasquez and won the game.
“If you look at that game tonight,” Turgeon said, “everything had something on the line. And our guys came through.”