State College took Game 1 of the New York-Penn League Championship Series in thrilling, dramatic fashion in a 2-1 victory over Tri-City that took 11 innings at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
With the Spikes (1-0) desperately clutching to the lead with one out in the final frame, Jacob Booden gave up a long drive to Ronnie Mitchell that elicited cheers from the ValleyCats’ faithful.
“You kind of have your heart drop when somebody hits the ball that far,” Booden said. “As soon as he hit it, I knew he made good contact and I actually thought it was out.”
However, Booden (1-0) said a crosswind blowing from right field to left kept the ball in the park and ultimately helped it into Jimmy Bosco’s waiting glove at the warning track.
Booden, a 6-foot-7, undrafted free agent, got the win. Edison Frias’s error in the top of the 11th helped earn the right-handed reliever the loss.
Mason Katz went 2-for-4, and tied the game at one in the fifth with a solo home run. Luis Perez scored the eventual winning run and also had the Spikes only other hit.
In a closely contested, splendidly pitched game, the result came down to which team made the fewest mistakes. The ValleyCats made three errors. The Spikes made one.
“Both teams were playing very good baseball,” said Spikes manager Oliver Marmol. “They were making very good pitches with runners in scoring position. So that miscue there in the 11th that gave us a shot, big time.”
Before the late-game heroics, pitchers from each staff dueled for series control all night. The squad’s combined for 19 strikeouts.
Booden fanned four in two innings. ValleyCats’ starter Evan Grills allowed just two hits in eight innings and struck out six.
Spikes starter Arturo Reyes, a 40th-round pick in June, retired 12-straight batters after giving up a run in the second inning. Kevin Herget, who led the Spikes with seven regular-season wins, entered in the seventh and pushed the streak to 17.
Reyes gave up an unearned and three hits in six innings. Herget gave up two hits in three innings, and retired six of his nine outs via strikeout.
“Both of those guys were solid,” Marmol said. “That’s what we expected going into the game. Both of those guys have great poise and they keep their composure.”
Steady nerves were what State College needed when Tri-City struck first.
Brett Booth’s single started the second inning and was followed by a Katz throwing error that allowed Jon Kemmer to reach first and sent Booth to third.
A batter later, Brian Holberton poked a fly ball deep enough to center to score Booth and make it 1-0.
But as they have done all season, the Spikes climbed back in the game.
“It does lower you’re level of anxiety to where you can still perform,” Marmol said of the Spikes’ late-game experience. “You felt like you’ve been there before.”
Katz smashed the first pitch he saw well over the fence in left off Grills and tied the game at one in the fifth.
In additional experience with the Spikes this year, Katz drew on his time in June’s College World Series with Louisiana State.
“It gives me experience of playing with big games,” Katz said. “There’s no nerves, it’s still just fun baseball.”
Katz is 7-for-16 with six RBIs this postseason.
The decisive 11th started with a Perez single to left off Frias and a subsequent Bosco bunt attempt. Frias fielded the bunt, but threw wildly to first allowing Perez to score from first.
Bosco headed to third, but became the second Spike thrown out at the plate on a Valera fielder’s choice a batter later.
Booden struck out Conrad Gregor to start the home half, and then got Mitchell on the near game-tying homer. A strikeout of Booth ended the night.
The Spikes and ValleyCats will play Game 2 Wednesday at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park at 7:05 p.m. Nick Petree (3-1) will start for State College and will face Tri-City’s Michael Feliz (4-2).