UNIVERSITY PARK — The lights at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park were off, the diamond lit only by whatever ambient light that shone off the stadium’s concourse signage.
Nine-year-old Josiah Viera stood in the box against State Collge pitcher Mitch Harris, who wound and delivered a fist full of air and then playfully turned as if Viera hit a game-winning single.
This was just minutes after Cesar Valera did just that with a walk-off single to right field that gave State College a 2-1 victory over Auburn in front of 4,150 screaming fans.
“This is fabulous,” said Dave Bohner as his grandson rounded third with the Spikes eagerly waiting at the plate. “This makes my night just to be able to watch him do this.”
Viera was born with Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome (“Progeria”, or “HGPS”), described by the Progeria Research Foundation as a rare, fatal genetic condition characterized by an appearance of accelerated aging in children.
A passionate lover of baseball, Viera was the Spikes’ special guest for the St. Louis Cardinals ‘80s Throwback Jersey-off-the-Back auction, which raised over $5,000 for the Children’s Miracle Network.
The Spikes were immediately taken when they saw Viera’s journey as told by ESPN’s prime-time newsmagazine series “E:60” before the nine-year-old arrived on Saturday.
“It’s pretty cool,” said Spikes’ manager Oliver Marmol of ending the night with a dramatic win. “These guys wanted to do something especial.”
Early on, the something special was the Doubledays’ pitching staff. In fact, Auburn befuddled the Spikes (20-18) even into the ninth.
Washington Nationals fifth-round pick in June, Austin Voth, pitched five dominant innings and allowed just two hits combined with six strikeouts.
Auburn manager Gary Cathcart didn’t get to see the ending live after being ejected in the sixth, but two of State College’s three singles in the final frame failed to leave the infield.
The Spikes’ saving grace, however, was the bullpen, which held Auburn at bay.
Valera had four of the team’s nine hits and was the only Spike with multiple hits.
Jacob Booden (1-0) earned the win in relief after striking out five in two innings. L.J. Hollins (0-2, 2) took the loss and blown save for Auburn (12-27).
The Doubledays took a 1-0 lead after three singles in the first off Arturo Reyes, who started for State College.
Reyes went five innings, gave up four hits and struck out two in his longest outing this season.
Jhonny Polanco entered in the sixth, struck out four and stymied the Doubledays for two innings. Booden also went two innings and struck out five, including fanning Sandy Leon - who’s on a rehab assignment for the Washington Nationals - in the ninth.
That set the stage for the Spikes’ finale, which started inauspiciously with a Mason Katz popup to right. Luke Voit then beat a dribbled swinging bunt down the line at third. After Michael Schulze pinch ran for Voit, Matthew Young drew a walk and Steven Ramos beat out another swinging tapper to load the bases.
Hollins, who gave up two runs and four hits in the one full inning, then hit Luis Perez in the hip, which brought in Schulze to tie the game at one.
“That’s the way things are going for us,” said Cathcart. “A little bit of tough luck in the ninth. Couple of swinging bunts. We also walked a guy and hit a guy so that didn’t help.”
Valera came up next and lined the first pitch he saw into right field and immediately raised his arms triumphantly as Young trotted scored the game winner.
With Juan Bautista translating, Valera said it was an emotional moment that doesn’t happen too often.
State College will travel to Batavia for a two-game set with the Muckdogs. Willy Paulino will start for the Spikes. Trevor Williams is scheduled to go for the Muckdogs.