UNIVERSITY PARK — Opportunity knocked all night for State College, but the Spikes didn’t answer until the bottom of the ninth inning when Brett Wiley sprayed a single to left field for a 2-1 walk-off win.
Before then, Spikes manager Oliver Marmol’s team stranded runners at third base in each of the first five innings, finished the game 4-for-13 with runners in scoring position and left 13 on base Wednesday night.
The victory was the team’s fifth in walk-off fashion this season and earned their 10th consecutive win at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Although Marmol will certainly take it, he prefers his team take care of business a little sooner.
“It (was) a very frustrating game,” he said. “To be completely honest, we didn’t play very good baseball. We had a lot of opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them.”
Steven Ramos went 3-for-4 and scored the game-winning run. Cesar Valera went 2-for-5 and Wiley went 2-for-2 after pinch-hitting for Ronald Castillo in the seventh.
Victor DeLeon got the win in relief. Briely Puerta took the loss for the Scrappers.
In its first home game since Aug. 4, State College (31-22) rode great pitching to sneak out a win, kept pace in the New York-Penn League’s Pinckney Division playoff race and earned some confidence heading into the final weeks of the regular season.
Spikes starter Juan Bautista scattered five hits and allowed an unearned run in a season-high seven innings of work. The right-hander also got 13-groundball outs and retired 17 of the last 19 batters he faced in his best start this season.
Bautista commanded his fastball, which touched 95 mph and made his best pitch — the change-up — much more effective.
However, it was the mental side of the game that the young righty commanded best. Earlier this season, Bautista allowed mistakes to turn into crooked numbers on the scoreboard once per start — but not this night.
“I was working on it mentally every day,” he said. “(I was) trying to be tough, trying to not give up so quickly and I was just confident I was going to do a better job this time.”
Entering the game, he allowed a .288 average by opponents with runners on base and .276 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
After giving up three singles in the first inning and one in the second, Bautista settled down and retired 11 in a row from the second to fifth innings.
Instead of being nervous while in a jam, he found resolve.
“I’m just not going to lose this game,” Bautista told himself. “I’m not going to let that run score. I had that (mentality) today. I didn’t have it in my last few outings.”
Neither team seemed keen on scoring runs.
After four singles in two innings, the Scrappers (22-30) netted just one run, and that came on a throwing error by second baseman Mason Katz that made it 1-0 in the first.
“We pitch very well overall,” said Scrappers’ manager Ted Kubiak. “We just haven’t hit. If we hit we’d by right in the mix of this thing.”
Mahoning Valley is last in the league in runs scored (171), but fourth in batting average (.249).
Starter Kenny Matthews kept the Spikes at bay for four innings. The lefty scattered six hits, walked four and allowed one run. Puerta gave up the Spikes’ three singles in the ninth after Ben Heller pitched three strong innings in middle relief.
State College scored in the first when Ramos led off with a single, followed by a bloop hit by Ronald Castillo and an RBI single from David Washington.
Valera made the defensive play of the game with two outs in the seventh on a Josh McAdams chopper up the middle. Valera ranged toward second, scooped the ball, pirouetted and threw a seed to first for the out.
DeLeon pitched two shutdown innings in relief of Bautista. The hard-throwing right-hander didn’t allow a hit, walked two, struck out four and held the fort until Wiley’s late-game heroics.
Ramos set the table again with a leadoff single in the ninth. The speedster then swiped second even though Mahoning Valley tried a pitch out.
Valera then hit a tapper just under the glove of James Roberts at short, which brought up Wiley — who was on deck trying to steady his nerves — with no outs and the infield and outfield in.
“I knew I was going to get up so it was just a matter of hoping guys were in base to get in that winning run,” Wiley said. “Just try to stay calm, keep that heartbeat down, stay patient at the plate and not make it more than it is.”
The win keeps State College just two games behind division-leader Jamestown. In the wild card, the Spikes also stay a half-game ahead of Lowell, which also won.
The series concludes at 7:05 p.m. Thursday when right-hander Arturo Reyes (0-2) starts for State College and right-hander Caleb Hamrick (1-5), replacing All-Star left-hander Luis Lugo, pitches for Mahoning Valley.