UNIVERSITY PARK — State College had found ways to muster late-inning comebacks most of the season, but the magic ran out Thursday as Tri-City held on 4-3 to clinch its first New York-Penn League Championship since 2010.
For the second straight night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, poor execution foiled the Spikes.
Defensive lapses were the difference as the ValleyCats employed small ball for four runs in the sixth inning to combat the effective pitching of Spikes’ starter Jimmy Reed.
“Yeah in a playoff game, especially in a decisive game like tonight you have to limit those crooked innings,” said Spikes’ manager Oliver Marmol. “And four runs to come back from that is tough. These guys did everything possible to come close, but just came up short.”
Starter Kyle Westwood (2-0) earned the win. Reed (0-1) took the loss. Gonzalo Sanudo earned his fourth postseason save.
David Washington and Mason Katz each had three-hit nights for State College. Katz had all three State College RBIs, including a two-run home run in the ninth that inched the Spikes closer.
As they have done throughout the postseason, State College struck with two outs in the fourth on a blooper by Katz that scored Carson Kelly from second to make it 1-0.
But the ValleyCats’ damage in the sixth proved insurmountable.
Ronnie Mitchell led the decisive inning with a slap-bunt single to first. Chan Moon followed with another bunt that Washington fielded and threw to second too late to catch Mitchell.
Still with no outs and runners on first and second, James Ramsay’s sacrifice bunt advanced the runners.
Reed was then lifted for Alex DeLeon, who induced a chopper from Jack Mayfield to Carson Kelly at third. Kelly looked at home briefly, but that hesitation proved costly as his throw to first was too late to get Mayfield and Mitchell scored to tie the game anyway.
Tyler White came up next with runners on the corners. DeLeon bounced a wild pitch that allowed Moon to score from third and moved Mayfield to second. Another wild pitch and Mayfield advanced to third. White eventually drew a walk, which ended DeLeon’s night before he even recorded an out.
Jeff Rauh entered and walked Conrad Gregor, but also induced an easy double play ball to Katz that should have ended the inning. Instead, two more runs scored to make it 4-1 after Cesar Valera threw wildly to first after getting one out at second.
The sequence forced State College to execute defensively, which was the plan of ValleyCats’ manager Ed Romero.
“That’s the whole idea,” Romero said. “The idea is to get as many runners in scoring position as you can.”
Small ball spoiled a brilliant pitching performance by Reed, who was charged with two runs on three hits in 5 1/3 innings. He also struck out four.
However, Westwood was also impressive.
The right-hander gave up one run on six scattered hits in six innings. He also walked a batter and struck out four.
“I thought I did a good enough job,” he said. “Kept us in there though we fell behind early. I knew our offense would come around eventually.”
Rauh and Mitch Harris came out of the Spikes’ bullpen, kept Tri-City close and gave their offense one last chance.
The Spikes’ portion of the 1,875 patrons at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park were nearly treated to another late-inning surge when Katz cut into the ValleyCats’ 4-1 lead with his home run.
However, as he has done all season, Tri-City closer Gonzalo Sanudo shut the door.
During the regular season, the 21-year-old from Tabasco, Mexico, allowed just three hits in 13 innings, and netted eight saves in as many opportunities. He also did not allow a single run.
So when Katz homered, pitching coach Doug White went out to calm his pitcher.
“At that time, I was p---- because I made a mistake and (Katz) made the adjustment,” Sanudo said. “That was my fault. Doug came out and reminded on how to take a punch.”
Luis Perez followed with a single and then went to second on Jimmy Bosco’s sacrifice bunt.
That left Steven Ramos and Valera — two of the Spikes best hitters — as the team’s last hope.
Sanudo struck out Ramos on four pitches, and Valera went down swinging on three.
Ramos went 1-for-12 in the series and Valera finished 0-for-13.
“It’s tough,” Marmol said. “Our first two guys in the lineup struggled a little bit tonight, but those are the guys that got us here. Can’t be mad at them. Those guys give you everything they got so if we had to do it again Ramos would be hitting first and Valera would be in the two hole.”
Despite the disappointing finish, Marmol said it wasn’t difficult to appreciate the totality of his team’s successful season.
“No, it’s not tough at all,” Marmol said. “These guys battled. They learned how to be winners … Overall as an organization we develop winning players and that’s what we did.”