The State College Spikes and Jamestown Jammers treated 4,178 fans to a thrilling tug-of-war for first place at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park on Thursday night.
A Cesar Valera walk-off single capped an improbable five-run ninth inning in Game 1 of a doubleheader for a 9-8 Spikes victory.
State College (44-25) rode that momentum to an 8-1 whitewashing of the Jammers (41-28) in Game 2 to take a three-game lead in the New York-Penn League’s Pinckney Division and drop the team’s magic number to just two to secure a playoff berth.
“Knowing that you’ve done it before is important,” said Jimmy Bosco, who scored the game-winning run. “If we hadn’t done it before maybe we’d be searching for ways to figure out how to do it.”
The win was the Spikes’ eighth walk-off win this season and Valera’s third game-winning hit.
“It was unbelievable,” said Spikes’ manager Oliver Marmol. “By far the best game I’ve ever been a part of. To give up four runs in the top of the ninth and then leave them out there with us scoring five, you don’t see that.”
The Spikes and Jammers will finish the series Friday night in the final regular-season home game in State College.
Trailing 8-4 after the Jammers seized momentary control with four in the eighth, the Spikes rallied for five on back-to-back home runs by Ronald Castillo and Carson Kelly, and clutch hits by Mason Katz, Jimmy Bosco and Valera.
Any combination of State College wins and Lowell losses that reaches the magic number that guarantees the Spikes at least a Wild Card berth.
Jeff Rauh (2-0) won Game 1 despite giving up five hits and four runs in 1 1/3 innings. Kurt Yacko (0-1) got the loss.
Andrew Pierce (2-2) stymied the Jammers for six innings and allowed just one run on one hit with five strikeouts in Game 2. Jackson Lodge (4-4) took the loss.
The teams combined for 33 hits, 17 runs and plenty of missed opportunities in Game 1, but five Jamestown errors ultimately allowed State College to hang around.
The Jammers would commit nine errors in the doubleheader.
Bosco, Valera and Wiley each had three-hit games and accounted for nine of the team’s 16 hits. Harold Ramirez (4-for-5) and Adam Landecker (3-for-4) had seven of the Jammers’ 17 hits.
Steven Ramos, Bosco and Alex De Leon each added two hits in Game 2. De Leon hit a solo homer in the fourth in a game the Spikes dominated from start to finish.
In contrast, Game 1 ebbed and flowed from the bottom of the second with the Spikes already ahead 2-0 from the June 25 postponement.
Jamestown starter Cody Dickson struggled to find control but used two early double plays to escape danger.
Nick Petree took over for Kevin Herget, the original starter, and looked sharp until the Jammers capitalized on back-to-back walks in the fourth with a single by Escobar that drove in a run, and a sacrifice bunt by Michael Fransoso that tied the game at 2-2.
State College nearly answered in the home half after De Leon drew a leadoff walk, but he was thrown out at home after a Valera single to right.
Brett Wiley eventually answered with a solo homer in the fifth that recaptured the lead at 3-2, but the momentum swung back to Jamestown in the eighth when Ramos misplayed an Adam Frazier line drive into a triple. Ramos motored after the low, sinking liner but whiffed on the dive, which allowed the ball to skip to the warning track with one out.
A Landecker single tied the game at three and a ground-rule double by Escobar off Rauh gave the Jammers the lead, although the ball hopping over the fence benefited the Spikes because only one run was allowed to score.
In the bottom half, State College was again denied at the plate when Luis Perez was thrown out after a single by Ramos. Valera came through with an RBI single two batters later.
The Spikes looked poised for more when Wiley hit a flare into short left, but Landecker chased the ball over his shoulder, tipped to himself and made a sliding catch to end the inning.
The situation seemed bleak for the Spikes as Rauh came apart in the ninth after Ramirez scorched the inning’s first pitch over the fence in left. The Jammers added three more in the inning, which appeared to put the game out of reach.
However, David Washington led the ninth with a walk and was driven home by Castillo’s blast to center. Kelly followed with a solo shot to left, which cut the deficit to 8-7.
Katz then blooped a pinch-hit single to left and later tied the game when Bosco scorched a double that was misplayed by Escobar and allowed Katz to score from first. Valera then punched the game-winner into right to plate Bosco.
The teams meet again at 7 p.m. when Jimmy Reed (3-2) starts for State College and Chad Kuhl (2-4) goes for Jamestown.