UNIVERSITY PARK — A boisterous crowd of 2,101 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park urged State College toward yet another come-from-behind victory, but Tri-City held on 5-4 and forced a decisive Game 3 for the New York-Penn League Championship.
After a late-inning error sunk the ValleyCats in Game 1, a similar problem foiled the Spikes on Wednesday.
“Poor execution,” said Spikes manager Oliver Marmol. “We talked about the details of the game in the playoffs are really important. They get exposed a lot easier because teams are closer.”
With the home team trailing in the bottom of the ninth, Luis Perez singled up the middle and energized the crowd. However, Jimmy Bosco popped his bunt attempt straight up to catcher Brett Booth for the first out.
Steven Ramos also popped up to Booth for out No. 2, but this time the ValleyCats’ catcher stumbled and dove before making the catch.
Cesar Valera struck out four pitches later and the ValleyCats got the win they needed to push the best-of-three series to its brink.
Starter Michael Feliz got the win (1-0). State College starter Nick Petree took the loss (0-2). Gonzalo Sanudo earned his third save of the playoffs.
“It’s huge, it’s huge,” said Tri-City manager Ed Romero. “It gave us a chance to play for tomorrow and anything can happen.”
What happened Wednesday night, was an eruption by what Romero said before the game was mostly a dormant offense kept in games by its pitching staff.
In a must-win situation, that formula worked again.
Feliz stymied State College for most of 5 2/3 innings. The 6-foot-4, 210-pound right-hander gave up two earned runs, struck out five and pitched around three walks.
That was just enough for the ValleyCats, who received multiple hits from six different players. The team netted 14 hits total.
Conrad Gregor went 3 for 4 with two RBIs and a home run. James Ramsay, Jack Mayfield, Brian Holberton, Jon Kemmer and Chan Moon each had two hits.
Ronnie Mitchell added two huge RBIs in the ValleyCats four-run sixth that seized control.
Tri-City drew first blood in the second when Gregor smacked a solo home run to center off a hanging change-up from Petree.
Mayfield got the ValleyCats going again in the sixth with a leadoff double, his second of the game. After a Tyler White sacrifice bunt, Mayfield took third where he scored on a Gregor single that was scorched into right field.
Holberton followed with another single, which brought out Spikes’ pitching coach Dernier Orozco to chat with Petree.
After the Spikes’ righty got Booth on strikes, Marmol brought in left-hander Chase Brookshire, who promptly gave up a double to Kemmer that made it 3-0. Another double by Mitchell and the Valley Cats took a 5-0 lead.
“Basically we got some clutch hits, which we were lacking a lot of the times,” Romero said. “Tonight was different … if we can do that consistently this team is going to be tough.”
Tri-City finished with three two-out RBIs.
However, a resilient Spikes squad wouldn’t be undone easily.
State College answered the ValleyCats volley with four runs of its own in the bottom of the sixth.
Ramos led the inning with a single to left, and Feliz plunked Valera. Luke Voit walked a batter later and David Washington singled home Ramos to make it 5-1 with the bases loaded and still no outs.
Carson Kelly drove a deep fly ball to left field that Kemmer initially misplayed, but recovered to make a sensational over-the-shoulder catch.
“Well, I made my first two steps in, which is a cardinal sin for an outfielder,” Kemmer said. “So, I decided I had to try to make up for that and try to bring in that grab.”
The play resulted in a sacrifice fly for Kelly, which made it 5-2, but if that ball found the turf more runs surely would have scored.
With two outs, third baseman White’s error on a Mason Katz grounder scored a run and kept the inning alive and Perez singled in another run to make it 5-4.
Relief pitcher Tyler Brunnemann finished the inning for Feliz and stopped the bleeding. Saundo gave up two hits, but struck out a pair in two innings for the save.
The Spikes threatened again in the eighth, but sloppy execution undid another potential rally.
Kelly legged out an infield single to start the inning, but Michale Schulze fouled off two bunt attempts and ultimately grounded in a double play. Katz fanned to end the inning.
Jhonny Polanco was a bright spot for the Spikes out of the bullpen, pitching 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of Petree and Brookshire.
State College left-hander Jimmy Reed will start Game 3, which begins Thursday at 7:05 p.m. Right-hander Kyle Westwood will start for Tri-City.
It’s one game for everything and Marmol wouldn’t have it any other way.
“If you were to write it up that’s the way you would do it, right?”