State College’s Bailey Ishler has come a long way since his first varsity start on March 31.
The Little Lions sophomore walked the first three batters he faced that day. He finished with six walks and admitted he was nervous in his debut in his team’s win over Chambersburg.
In the last two months, Ishler has found his comfort zone and established himself as the ace in a rotation decimated by injury.
“It’s not a good thing obviously that our other pitchers are gone,” Ishler said. “But it’s helped the coaches instill trust in me. You got to do what you got to do, and the coaches trust me, put me out there and say throw strikes and I’ll do my best.”
His best has been good enough to help the Little Lions (16-5) capture the District 6 Class AAAA title and return to the PIAA tournament. State College will face Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth division rival Red Land (15-9) in the first round on Monday at 4 p.m. at Penn State Altoona.
The Little Lions lost to the Patriots 5-4 and beat them 3-1 during the regular season.
“It’s a mixed blessing,” State College coach Bill Tussey said. “We’re familiar with them, but at the same time, they’re familiar with us.”
Red Land advanced to the PIAA tournament with a 3-2 win in nine innings over Exeter in the District 3 third-place game Thursday. The Patriots’ Jeremy Hileman threw a complete game, so Tussey is expecting State College to face first-team all-division pitcher Zach Newmyer.
For State College, Caleb Walls and Calvin Sichler each earned first-team all-division honors.
Ishler (5-0, 2.45 ERA) will likely get the start for the Little Lions.
He started both games against Red Land during the season, allowing just one run in 10 innings. And he started both district playoff games, going four innings in the semifinals against Altoona and limiting Central Mountain to one run on three hits in five innings in the championship.
It was another strong performance State College needed from the sophomore with its top two pitchers, Nick Raquet and Kyle Peterson, out due to injury.
“For him to go out and start in a district title game as a sophomore is unbelievable,” Raquet said. “He has so much skill, so much potential, he’s going to be a great player in the future. But right now he’s our pitcher leader, he’s our ace right now and he’s doing a very good job at that. I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
Raquet was right in the middle of State College’s district championship celebration despite enduring a tough season personally. After leading the Little Lions to the title last year, the North Carolina commit was the team’s unquestioned ace going into this season.
But he was limited to just 14 2/3 innings and hasn’t pitched since late April due to injury. Peterson went 4-2 with a 1.32 ERA in 37 innings before an injury took him out of the rotation for the postseason.
That left Ishler to carry the load along with Keith LeBarron.
LeBarron pitched four scoreless innings in the district tournament and earned the win over Central Mountain.
“To lose two, that’s always a tough loss,” Tussey said. “But at the same time, that’s where your depth comes in. And both Bailey and Keith have done a good job so far through the playoffs. They’ve just got to keep maintaining that.”
Tussey said Ishler’s done everything he’s been asked this season.
Right now, he’s the team’s ace.
But Ishler deflects the credit for his success to his teammates. Since his first start, when he struggled with his control, he’s taken one lesson to heart.
“I’ve learned that my defense is there to back me up,” Ishler said. “It’s great to have a defense that just is always there for me. Now I’ve grown up. The coaches have helped me, just told me throw strikes, our defense is there and that’s what I’ve done and it’s helped me out a lot.”
Ishler’s consistency on the mound has been crucial to State College’s run to the PIAA tournament.
The Little Lions will need him to be sharp to start another run Monday.
“Bailey, for a sophomore,” Tussey said, “I think he’s had an exemplary year really.”
Follow Ryne Gery on Twitter @rgery