ALTOONA — State College’s Keith LeBarron paused in disbelief at the base of the mound.
The Little Lions relief pitcher looked toward home plate, surprised after his 3-2 pitch was ruled a ball to walk home Red Land’s Shawn Robinson, pushing the Patriots’ lead to two runs with two outs in the top of the sixth inning. State College was so close to escaping the bases-loaded jam unscathed.
Instead, the inning continued and the deficit grew larger when Red Land’s Zach Newmyer drilled a two-run double into right field. The Little Lions were suddenly staring at a four-run hole with two chances at the plate to stage a comeback.
“If that pitch would have just been a couple inches closer in,” State College coach Bill Tussey said, “we get the strike and we’re out of the inning. But that’s the way it goes some days.”
State College fell apart from there, allowing four more runs in the seventh inning of a 10-2 loss to Red Land in the first round of the PIAA Class AAAA tournament on Monday at Penn State Altoona. The Little Lions (16-6) were unable to break through against Newmyer, who scattered seven hits in a complete-game performance to earn the win. State College remained within one run of the Patriots (16-9) after five innings, but the Little Lions failed to score in the final six.
Red Land advances to face Conestoga, which beat Cedar Cliff 3-2, in Thursday’s quarterfinals.
The loss marked the end of State College’s season highlighted by winning the Mid Penn Conference Commonwealth Division title and capturing a second straight District 6 championship. Tussey credited the team’s seven seniors for leading the program’s run of success.
“They really have given their all,” Tussey said. “Just the fact, not only did they win back-to-back district championships, which I think is kind of their cherry on top, if you just see them work every day as hard as they worked, but at the same time how well they got along and how well they led this team — you cannot have a successful team without good, positive senior leadership.
“And this group, I’m going to miss them greatly. They were the heart and soul of this team.”
State College starter Bailey Ishler got off to a rough start in the top of the first.
Red Land’s first six batters all reached base as the Patriots built a 3-0 lead.
Red Land failed to add more with the bases loaded when State College shortstop Chris Adams ended the inning with a double play on a ground ball up the middle.
The Little Lions immediately cut the deficit to 3-2 on Sam Plafcan’s two-run single in the bottom half.
Neither team managed to score in the next four innings.
“We kept getting baserunners,” Red Land coach Nate Ebbert said. “We just couldn’t get them in.”
Ishler settled in to limit the Patriots to three runs in four innings. Newmyer cruised to protect Red Land’s one run lead, retiring the Little Lions in order in the fourth and fifth innings.
Then he helped add to the lead against LeBarron in the sixth.
Red Land loaded the bases with two outs on a walk to Ben Snyder. The Patriots’ Dalton Clouser battled LeBarron to a full count. Tussey thought State College was out of the jam on the next pitch, but Clouser drew the walk to score Robinson and give Red Land a 4-2 lead.
Newmyer followed with the two-run double.
“That was a big hit,” Ebbert said. “Big two-strike hit, too. He’s been clutch all year, he’s been hitting the ball real well. Dalton had a big at bat. That was a huge at bat to force in that run. Just one run, heck, I would have been happy with one run.”
But the Patriots were happy to take three and led 6-2.
State College left two runners on in the bottom of the sixth, and Red Land added four runs to put the game out of reach in the top of the seventh.
Though the end was disappointing, the Little Lions put together another memorable season.
“I know the boys are down, but hopefully we can convince them they had a very nice year,” Tussey said. “It’s the kind of year that hey, there’s how many teams sitting at home that would love to be where we were today? So I’m extremely proud of them.”
Follow Ryne Gery on Twitter @rgery