STATE COLLEGE — It’s still early in the season, but State College coach Bill Tussey said the Little Lions’ matchup with Cumberland Valley had the feel of a playoff game.
State College recorded three double plays, and Cumberland Valley turned one in a sharp defensive performance. The Little Lions’ pitchers kept their team within striking distance after allowing three runs in the first three innings, while Eagles starter Christian McClure allowed just one run in six innings.
“These are the games you want to play in,” Tussey said, “where you have that kind of intensity, where it's gonna be tight, and you know you're gonna have to struggle and scratch a little bit to win.”
The Little Lions couldn’t scratch together enough runs Thursday in a 4-1 loss to Cumberland Valley in a game between the top two teams in the Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division. State College (5-1) now sits in second place, a half game behind Cumberland Valley (6-2), in the division standings. The Little Lions left the bases loaded twice, managed just six hits and scored their lone run on a Cumberland Valley error. Calvin Sichler and Alec Lose each had two hits to pace State College.
State College starter Kyle Peterson allowed three runs in four innings, Tyler LeBarron pitched two scoreless innings and Alex Garban allowed one run on the mound.
Tussey said the Little Lions have to put the loss behind them quickly with five games next week, including a rematch with Cumberland Valley.
“We're playing every day but Friday next week,” Tussey said. “We don't have time to mope around, we got to be focused.”
State College had a frustrating day at the plate from the start.
With the bases loaded and one out, Derek Van Horn and Chris Adams both struck out looking. Cumberland Valley’s McClure then cruised through the second and third innings, facing six batters and allowing just one hit. The Eagles scored in each of the first three innings to build a 3-0 lead.
The Little Lions finally got on the scoreboard in the fourth after a Cumberland Valley miscue.
State College’s Ken Craig, who singled to lead off, stood on second base with two outs. Jonathan Bergman skied a pop up to Eagles shortstop Mitchel Lacey, who dropped it to allow Craig to score. Tyler Hall followed with a walk, and Lose singled to load the bases.
But State College failed to capitalize as Brandon Raquet grounded out to end the inning.
“It was huge,” Cumberland Valley coach Levi Mumma said of escaping the bases-loaded jam. “And that's so uncharacteristic of those two in the middle.”
Second baseman Jordan Frazier also dropped a pop up in the sixth. Lacey, who finished 4-for-4, bounced back with an RBI single to give the Eagles a three-run cushion in the seventh inning.
“If you let everything in this game bother you, then you're gonna drive yourself crazy,” Mumma said. “And that's what I love about these guys, they have the experience, they have the confidence and they believe in each other, no matter what happens.”
McClure kept the Little Lions off balance heading into the seventh.
He relied on his fastball and mixed in a curveball to finish with eight strikeouts. His first strikeout started his day in the first inning, and his last finished his outing in the sixth.
“He did a good job, particularly early in the game hitting that outside part of the plate, keeping it low, away and in the zone,” Tussey said. “We didn't adjust to it until late in the game and by the time we adjusted to it, it was just too late.”
Cumberland Valley left State College in first place in the division, but Mumma downplayed the importance at this point in the season.
“We know that you're never, ever gonna just show up to State College and get a win,” Mumma said. “You got to go out and play, and out guys did that. And of course the win feels good, but there's a lot of season left and the Mid Penn is very, very good. We've been lucky, we've gotten some bounces early on, but you got to put the ball in play and hopefully we keep getting the bounces.”
State College got the pitching and defensive performances it needed Thursday, but the Little Lions couldn’t overcome the lack of production on offense.
“We struggled offensively today,” Tussey said. “I think we had about nine left on base. We just never got that clutch hit to kind of kickstart things.”