With asphalt-colored clouds hanging ominously over Community Field once again, a loose State College squad eventually finished off Altoona 10-0 on Friday, but an early opportunity provided some comic relief after a storm postponed Thursday’s finish.
With a 9-0 lead, Tanner Witter pulverized a triple to right field in the fifth inning. Calvin Sichler, who led off with a walk, retreated momentarily before taking off from first.
The hesitation cost Sichler as he was thrown out at home by a wide margin trying to score the run that would have triggered the 10-run rule and ended the game.
“You have to give him a hard time,” said State College senior Dan Fry. “Tanner got a triple and he’s not known to be one of our fastest kids and (Calvin) gets gunned out ¾ of the way to home plate. You have to give him some crap for that.”
The game, and the good-natured ribbing, didn’t last much longer.
Fry scored the game-winning run in the sixth for top-seeded State College (15-6) when Jason Costa grounded into a fielder’s choice that Altoona couldn’t convert into an inning-ending double play.
The win sets up a playoff rematch against No. 3 seed Central Mountain on Wednesday. The Wildcats ended the Little Lions’ season last year with a 7-6 win in the district quarterfinals.
Friday’s game, which resumed in the top of the fifth, took under 30 minutes to complete.
Nick Raquet (4-2), who pitched four innings and struck out seven on Thursday, got the win.
Ben Finlan finished the game for State College.
The Little Lions seized control early after Thursday’s nine-run first inning and dominated from start to finish.
Fry went 3-for-4, scored two runs and knocked in three more. Kenny Craig went 2-for-3 and added two RBIs. Witter went 2-for-3.
State College finished with 11 hits to just three for Altoona (8-12).
In the end it was Altoona’s five errors that decided the game.
In fact, before Fry scored to end the game in the sixth, Darian Herncane (1-for-3, two RBIs) grounded into what could have been an inning-ending double play. Instead an errant throw kept the inning alive.
“You can’t afford to have the number of errors we had against a good team or against any team, especially in a playoff game,” said Altoona head coach Tom Smith.
“Even today we end up ending the game because we couldn’t make some plays in the infield. Very frustrating. Very frustrating.”
State College head coach Bill Tussey joked when asked how he told his team to mentally prepare after a daylong rain delay.
“That’s always iffy. Every group is a little different,” he said with a laugh as his boisterous team ran past laughing and joking.
He simply told them to eat a good meal, rest and come back with some urgency. And they did.
“Honestly, it wasn’t that hard,” said Fry of the layoff. “It was more of a lighter mentality knowing that you’re up 9-0 with one run to score (to end it)…”
The mood won’t be light on Wednesday however. The Little Lions are likely to face Central Mountain’s stud pitcher Von Walker.
The Little Lions already beat Walker earlier this season, but Tussey knows the playoffs are a different animal.
“You learn some things,” Tussey said of this season’s meeting. “You learn a little bit in terms of tendencies, but (playoffs are) a different ball game...”
“There’s a little bit more motivation.”