Jeff Osborne and Sarah Stephenson took a few cursory glances at what was happening on the diamond at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Friday night, but the couple’s attention was affixed elsewhere.
With one big inning early, State College took care of Auburn 4-1 in front of 5,256, several hundred of which, like Osborne and Stephenson, waited in line to meet Mountain Man from the hit show “Duck Dynasty” on A&E.
The crowd was the largest since the final game of the season in 2011.
“It was fun,” said a camouflage-clad, bushy-bearded Osborne as he held a stuffed squirrel that stood a foot tall on a wooden plank. “There were a few nice plays made in the outfield. Other than that it was just a baseball game.”
It was a little more important for the Spikes (19-18), who needed a win after suffering a three-game sweep on the road against Mahoning Valley that made it eight straight losses away from home.
And against a struggling opponent like Auburn, it was important to come out swinging.
“The quick start was the key,” said Spikes’ manager Oliver Marmol. “The last thing you want to do is go five, six innings without any production and then them get into the mindset of, ‘Oh, here we go again.’”
Carson Kelly went 3 for 4 with a game-high two RBIs. Cesar Valera awoke from an eight-game slumber with a 2 for 4 night. He entered the contest 2 for 28 during the span.
Kevin Herget started and earned his team-leading fourth win of the season, rebounding nicely from getting knocked around in his last outing. Herget went five innings, scattered five hits and struck out four, a vast improvement from his nine-hit, four-run stint in four and two-thirds last time out.
Chase Brookshire went four innings to earn his first save. He gave up four hits, a run and struck out two.
Deion Williams, a converted shortstop, took the loss for the Doubledays (12-26), who equaled State College’s nine hits, but mustered only one run.
The third inning was the difference for the Spikes.
Luis Perez started the inning with a single to right-center and moved to second when Steven Ramos grounded to first. After an out, Perez tallied the first run, racing home when Jimmy Bosco tripled into the right-center field gap. Valera plated Bosco with a single to center and Bruce Caldwell tucked a double down the line in left, which sent Valera to third. After David Washington recieved an intentional walk, Kelly drove in the Spikes’ final two runs with a single to left-center.
“That big inning there was very helpful,” Marmol said. “You could tell it was kind of a weight off their shoulders.”
The win kept State College from dipping below .500 for the first time since the season began. It also got the Spikes a game closer to Williamsport (20-17), which lost to Pinckney Division leader Jamestown 4-3 at Bowman Field.
On the flip side, the Doubledays continue to struggle even though they played the Spikes even save for one inning.
“The offense continues to be scattered,” said Auburn manager Gary Cathcart. “We have a hard time sustaining innings and getting more than a single run at a time.”
The Doubledays touched Brookshire for three hits in the seventh inning but managed just one run. A diving catch by Ramos in center, robbing Cody Gunter of extra bases, didn’t help.
By the night’s end, Auburn had lost its eighth game in 10 tries.
Near night’s end Osborne, 27, and Stephenson, 24, finally met the man they came to see. Osborne, a junior studying forestry at Penn State, said he may want to work for the U.S. Forest Service someday, but he wouldn’t mind living the Duck Dynasty lifestyle either.
The pair from Centre Hall plans to wed Aug. 9 and didn’t mind waiting more than four hours to meet Mountain Man — an early wedding present of sorts.
“I guess you could say that,” Stephenson said. “It was worth it. He was really nice and really down to earth. And we got the squirrel signed.”