UNIVERSITY PARK — It was a pitcher’s dual and scoreless through seven innings.
Then the State College Spikes finally broke the door open in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park and rattled off their ninth-straight win.
In fact, they didn’t just break through it — they blew the thing right off the hinges en route to the 7-0 win over the Auburn Doubledays, in an inning that featured multiple bizarre occurrences.
With the bases loaded and the game still scoreless, the Doubledays brought their centerfielder into the infield to play defense in hopes of preventing the Spikes (40-23) from scoring. The decision backfired when Mason Katz drove the ball to right field for a two-run double and breaking the drought of scoring.
“You really just try to stay inside of the ball, keep my hands inside, try to hit something toward right centerfield, right field and just try to hit a fly ball,” Katz said. “They brought five infielders in, but that’s what this team’s mojo has been all year long. We’ve gotten clutch hits at the right time and have been able to come up when we really needed it, so (I) was just trying to help them out.”
The win kept State College atop the New York-Penn League’s Pinckney Division, two games ahead of the Jamestown Jammers, who also won Saturday. The Spikes also hold the league’s best record.
While runs may have been hard to find Saturday until the eighth, the Spikes certainly found plenty of hits. The league’s top hitting team racked up another 11 in the game, with two each for Steven Ramos, Carson Kelly and Michael Schulze, and doubles for Katz, Kelly and David Washington.
The Spikes have been getting hits in bunches lately, with 25 in their last two games, 38 in the last three and 68 in the last five. They also have won 16 of their last 17 at home and 22 of their last 27 overall.
Everything got started in the bottom of the eighth inning by State College’s Luke Voit.
After he was part of a strike-them-out, throw-them-out inning-ending double play in the top half of the frame, the Spikes’ catcher got the bottom part of the inning going with a leadoff walk. He was then removed from the game for pitch runner Luis Perez.
Washington followed with his 16th double of the season to left field, and after Kelly was intentionally walked, the Spikes had the bases loaded and no outs. That was when Katz produced the game’s first run and the rest of the team simply followed suit.
Michael Schulze added an RBI bloop single to center field, and after the bases were loaded again, Katz raced home on a wild pitch. An RBI single to center field by Ronald Castillo and another wild pitch allowed the Spikes to build a 6-0 lead — still without recording an out.
The scoring was finally capped off when Kelly reached base safely on a Doubledays’ fielding error and that allowed Castillo to come home.
It was an inning that featured extra infielders, center fielder Greg Zebrack brought in to pitch to three batters and 13 batters brought to the plate. Despite it taking some time for his club to break through, Spikes manager Oliver Marmol was pleased with his team’s constant efforts to continue to grind it out.
“These guys did a good job of competing the whole way through, had some balls got caught early,” Marmol said. “(We were) just kind of able to put some quality at-bats together, string it all together there in that last inning, which was good to see. But better late than never.”
While the Spikes did all of their scoring in the eighth, they did so on only five base hits.
On the mound, the Spikes’ pitchers combined for a shutout and starting pitcher Jimmy Reed led the way. In six innings of work, Reed only allowed two hits and a walk, while fanning five batters. Victor De Leon (4-2) pitched two more hitless innings for the win.
The Spikes will look to win their 10th game in a row Sunday for one final game against the Doubledays at 6:05 p.m. at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.