UNIVERSITY PARK — Batavia’s Ryan Aper stepped to the plate in the ninth inning with the score tied at three after State College slowly fought its way back into the game.
The 6-foot-3, 175-pound center fielder entered the game with just three hits this season. The fourth was a game-winning solo home run to left field that gave his team a 4-3 victory.
“Finally,” Aper said after the game as his teammates playfully teased him. “It’s been a struggle all year and it felt good to finally hit a baseball hard.”
One night removed from a 13-2 beating, the Muckdogs (8-8) came to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park with something to prove.
“This is a good group of guys that likes to compete and go out there and battle,” said Batavia manager Angel Espada. “We’ve had a couple of games like that this season and every time we answer the bell.”
Dane Stone (1-0) blew a save opportunity in relief, but also got the win. Jeff Rauh (1-2), who gave up the Aper home run, took the loss.
Jarlin Garcia started and pitched 4 2/3 innings of quality ball for Batavia. The left-hander allowed one run on five hits, struck out four and walked one. He changed speeds and locations often to keep the Spikes off balance.
Steven Ramos, Carson Kelly and David Washington each went 2-for-4 for State College (10-8).
Aper, a sixth-round pick in 2013, entered the game just 3-for-32 on the season with 14 strikeouts. The 20-year-old from Lincoln Land Community College in Illinois is now batting .114.
“It could not have happened to a better kid,” Espada said of Aper. “He’s been having his struggles at the plate … and to come up with a big hit like that — confidence booster, you know.”
The Spikes went 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position and have a few players that could benefit from a similar boost.
Juan Bautista, the Spikes’ starter, at times threw well, but was also punished for leaving balls in the zone. He gave up three runs on seven hits, walked three and struck out one through five innings.
A two-out single by Austin Dean (2-for-4) followed by back-to-back doubles by Scott Carcaise (1-for-4) and Avery Romero (2-for-4) hurt Bautista and gave the Muckdogs a 3-0 lead in the third inning.
Allowing one mistake to turn into a bad inning has been problematic for Bautista this season.
“He needs some mental toughness and he’s getting there,” said State College manager Oliver Marmol. “Being able to limit damage is going to be very important for him, or any pitcher.
“He’s in a situation where if they score one that’s led to bigger innings and he’s going to have to continue to compete and learn what that’s like.”
Matthew Young’s double to start the ninth might be the boost he needs. The 20th-round pick in 2012 went 1-for-4 to improve his batting average to .180. He was stranded there however, after Brian Vigo, who went 2-for-4 with a double and an RBI, bunted out foul to Batavia catcher Chad Wallach.Vigo is now 3-for-16 this season (.188).
After Jimmy Bosco pinch-hit for Steven Ramos (2-for-4) and struck out, Cesar Valera grounded to third and ended the game.
However, not to be lost in defeat was the play of Spikes’ second baseman Mason Katz. Katz made several tough plays look routine in the field and also manufactured the game-tying run in the eighth after drawing a leadoff walk. The fourth-round pick from LSU swiped second and third bases to set the table for Kelly, who tied the game with a single up the middle.
“That was big,” Marmol said of Katz. “Instinctual on his part.”
“The comeback was good,” he continued. “Shows the guys have some fight in them. (We’ll) come back tomorrow and see what we got.”
Right-hander Chris Perry (1-0) will start for State College in Saturday’s series finale at 7:05 p.m. Right-hander Trevor Williams (0-0) will go for Batavia.
Notes: Pitcher Josh Lucas placed on seven-day disabled list, retroactive to July 3. Left-hander Chase Brookshire activated from the DL.