UNIVERSITY PARK — The State College Spikes opened a critical two-week stretch with an offensive dud.
Playing the team they must catch to earn their first New York-Penn League playoff spot, the Spikes fell to Auburn 1-0 on Friday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The result widened the gap between the Pinckney Division-leading Doubledays and Spikes to 41/ 2 games.
The Spikes had chances to decrease the gap. They outhit the Doubledays 6-5 and collected the game’s lone extra-base hits —Walker Gourley’s hustling
double in the first and newcomer Jon Schwind’s triple in seventh.
Neither hit yielded jubilation. Gourley crossed home in the first, but not fast enough, according to plate umpire Scott Costello.
The play foreshadowed the Spikes’ plight, as Jacob Stallings flied out to center fielder Wander Ramos with one out. Gourley tagged from third as D.J. Crumlich tried advancing from first to second.
Ramos hurled the ball to the infield, and shortstop Wes Schill tagged Crumlich. Costello ruled Schill touched Crumlich before Gourley scored. Spikes manager Dave Turgeon questioned the decision on his return trip to the dugout.
“Apparently we didn’t cross home plate before he was tagged out at second base,” Turgeon said. “I beg to differ. I can’t really comment further on that. He saw it that way. I didn’t see it that way.”
Turgeon, though, said what transpired in the second inning prevented the sequence from lingering. Auburn had the bases loaded with one out when Carlos Lopez looked at Adrian Sampson’s third-strike fastball. The call peeved Lopez, and his less-than- congenial remarks to Costello sparked an ejection.
The inning ended with Spencer Kiebom flying out to right.
“They had a situation, too, bases loaded and they had the same thing happen to their team, so it wasn’t like a momentum killer,” Turgeon said of the call against his team in the first. “We came back and threw up a zero. It was a good, competitive game against a team we were chasing.”
The competitive situations extended into the eighth, an inning that ended with base umpire Sam Vogt declaring a hard-sliding Gourley interfered with Mike McQuillan’s throw on a double-play attempt. The call handed the Doubledays two outs and halted the inning. Turgeon trotted across the infield to debate Vogt’s ruling.
Turgeon remained composed after both calls. The Spikes followed their manager’s lead, displaying no anger despite failing to score. Friday marked the first of eight games in 13 days between the Spikes (29-28) and Doubledays (33-23), so extending frustration is discouraged.
“I like how it sets up,” Turgeon said. “We pitch it a little better than they pitch it. They swing it probably a little better than we swing it. We both kind of catch it the same. It’s a good match on paper. It’s going to come down to things like coming through with a clutch RBI single or something like that. These are going to be tightly-contested baseball games.”
The Spikes pitching staff, which lowered is team ERA to 3.24, relishes games such as Friday’s. Sampson, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ fifth-round draft pick, allowed three hits in 42/ 3 innings before reaching his work limit.
The Doubledays used shortstop Chris Diaz’s two-out fielding error in the fifth to score their lone run. Tony Renda drove in the winning run three pitches after Diaz bobbled a meek flare that bounced behind second base.
Clario Perez kept Auburn’s lead at one by pitching four scoreless relief innings. Sampson, Perez and Lance Breedlove, who served as a one-out bridge Friday, only allowed two Doubledays to reach third base.
Sampson said the standings didn’t alter how he approached his ninth professional outing.
“You act like it’s another other day,” he said. “You go out there and try to do the same game plan against anybody. You go into every game wanting to win. That’s what the mind-set is.”
The teams end their brief series at 7:05 p.m. tonight. The Spikes then play Williamsport twice before visiting Auburn three times next week. The Spikes and Doubledays end their season series Aug. 27-29 at Medlar Field.
Guy Cipriano can be reached at 231-4643. Follow him on Twitter @cdtguy