ALTOONA — Down to its final three outs on Tuesday, the State College baseball team could have walked away with a crushing defeat in the District 6 Class AAAA title game.
But thanks to a pebble and a bunt gone awry, the Little Lions walked off for the second consecutive season with the trophy and a PIAA berth.
Calvin Sichler spanked a game-winning, two-run single with one out in the bottom of the seventh as State College rallied to a 6-5 victory over Central Mountain at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
“It was the same situation last year,” Sichler recalled of the Little Lions’ 3-2 win in eight innings against the Wildcats. “We won in a walk-off fashion just like that. I guess anything is possible.”
The comeback became possible with a little bit of luck. Alec Lose led off the seventh with a routine grounder, but the ball hit a pebble and skipped over shortstop Cayden Stover’s left shoulder into center field for a single.
“Somebody was looking out for us,” said State College coach Bill Tussey. “Like those of you who are golfers, you know there are the golf gods when you get a great hop. Today, the baseball gods were looking out for us.”
Caleb Walls followed with a sacrifice bunt that Wildcat pitcher Caleb Seyler threw into right field, allowing runners to go second and third.
After Caleb Stover came in to pitch, State College’s Derek Van Horn (on his own) tried a bunt, but it was too hard and Lose was thrown out at the plate.
That brought up Sichler, who Tussey wanted to bunt for a safety squeeze to try to plate Walls. Sichler fouled off bunt attempts on the first two pitches, putting himself in a big hole.
He battled back, working the count to 3-2 as Van Horn eventually swiped second to move into scoring position. Sichler then followed with a hard grounder down the left field line, easily skirting the drawn-in infield. Walls and Van Horn easily scored, touching off a wild celebration.
“Coach gave me the bunt and I couldn’t get it down twice,” said Sichler, fresh from a Gatorade shower from his teammates. “I had to go up there and have a quality at-bat and put the ball into play.”
It was an effort that Tussey has come to expect from Sichler.
“In big moments, he seems to get it done more times than not,” Tussey said. “… In a situation like that, you could just see it in his posture. He just bears down and battles. … For whatever reason, he gets more focused with more pressure.”
State College (16-5) appeared to have Central Mountain (10-8) on the ropes heading into the sixth. Bailey Ishler had pitched five strong innings, allowing just three hits, as the Little Lions took a 4-1 lead.
But, Tussey decided to make a pitching change.
“Bailey is a sophomore and he’s thrown a lot of innings here recently,” Tussey explained. “You could see his mechanics were getting off just a shade in the fifth. It was a good place (to take him out).”
Ken Craig moved over from first base and got the first out, but hit the next batter and the Wildcats came alive.
Zach Skrtich lined a shot that Van Horn dove for and missed and wound up as an RBI triple. Clayton Butler followed with an RBI single and an error put runners at second and third. A fielder’s choice loaded the bases before Ethan McGill stroked a two-run single to left to give the Wildcats a 5-4 lead.
“They fought and scrapped,” Wildcat coach Michael Kramer said of his club. “We easily could have lied down there and given up. That says a lot about them.”
“Kenny Crag, that was an aberration for him,” Tussey said. “He’s been lockdown for us all year, but boy they jumped on him. Give them credit there.”
With the contest tied at 1-1, State College took the lead with a two-run third. Lose doubled and scored on an error and Walls scored on Craig’s RBI grounder.
State College added a run in the fourth as Tyler Hall drew a one-out walk and eventually scored on Van Horn’s RBI single.
Lose led the Little Lions with three hits from the No. 9 spot in the lineup.
“He’s just like our second leadoff hitter,” Sichler said of Lose. “That’s how I look at it. He’s been hitting the ball real well.”
Keith Lebarron, who pitched a scoreless seventh, earned the win for the Little Lions.
Seyler, who allowed two earned runs, did what he was called upon by the Wildcats to do.
“He does an outstanding job,” Kramer said of his junior right-hander. “He doesn’t walk anybody. He keeps his composure no matter what happens behind him. I was just hoping it would have turned out different for us there in the end because he deserved a win.”
State College advances to face the third-place team from District 3 in the opening round of the PIAA Tournament on Monday. The Little Lions advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Lower Dauphin last season.
“It feels real good,” Sichler said. “Hopefully, we can go a long way again.”
Follow Walt Moody on Twitter @wmoodycdt