For nearly five innings, Williamsport starting pitcher Ricardo Pinto baffled the State College lineup with his changeup.
Pinto held the Spikes hitless and allowed two baserunners on a pair of walks with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. That’s when he made his first mistake, leaving a pitch over the middle of the plate for State College catcher Brian O’Keefe.
O’Keefe made him pay, depositing the offering over the right field wall for the Spikes’ first hit to break a scoreless tie.
“I got in a good count, 1-0, and he threw a pitch middle-away,” O’Keefe said. “And I was able to stay through it long enough and drive it out of the ballpark.”
O’Keefe’s home run proved to be the difference in State College’s 1-0 win Thursday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. The Spikes finished with just three hits, but rode a masterful pitching effort to their 12th win in 14 games. The Spikes (45-27) also recorded back-to-back shutouts for the first time since June 2012.
State College starting pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon threw five scoreless innings, striking out seven and allowing four hits. Poncedeleon didn’t walk a batter in his 73-pitch outing. Kyle Grana recorded a pair of strikeouts for the final two outs to pick up the save.
Relievers Brandon Lee, Nick Lomascolo and Grana combined to throw a perfect final four innings.
Danny Diekroeger went 0 for 4, ending his franchise-record hitting streak at 21 games. Diekroeger’s best opportunity for a hit came on a hard line drive right at Crosscutters third baseman Jan Hernandez in the sixth. He also struck out twice and grounded out.
Pinto was sharp in the losing effort, giving up three hits and one run in seven innings. Pinto also struck out nine and walked three while throwing 92 pitches.
“(Pinto) kept us off balance, did a nice job locating his changeup, basically threw it in any count,” Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said. “Lefties had a tough time against him. Everybody had a tough time against him. Banged one out into right field and call it a game.”
The Spikes’ shutout started with Poncedeleon, who picked up his second straight win.
The right-hander worked out of a jam after allowing back-to-back singles in the first inning. With runners on first and third and one out, Williamsport’s Rhys Hoskins grounded a curveball to Diekroeger at third to start an inning-ending double play.
On a night he felt he wasn’t at his best, Poncedeleon gave up just two more hits in his final four innings.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with my fastball,” Poncedeleon said. “I feel like it wasn’t working like it usually does, where it has its sink. It was a little flatter today, so me and O’Keefe did a good job of mixing in my other pitches, my secondary pitches, keep the batters off balance and getting through the five innings.”
After allowing a leadoff single in the second, Poncedeleon snapped off a curveball on the inside corner to strike out Williamsport’s Jose Pujols looking. Hernandez then went down looking at the same pitch.
Poncedeleon recorded two more strikeouts on breaking balls in the third inning. Williamsport’s Cord Sandberg chased a curveball in the dirt before Jiandido Tromp was called out on a check swing chasing an outside pitch.
He added two more strikeouts in the fourth inning and got Hernandez to swing over another curveball for his seventh and final strikeout in the top of the fifth.
Going into the bottom half, the Spikes were still searching for their first hit.
Robelys Reyes grounded out to lead off the inning, and Chase Raffield struck out swinging at a changeup. O’Keefe took a fastball high and inside before lifting a solo shot to right field to give State College a 1-0 lead.
“It was great seeing O’Keefe do it too because he’s got a lot of fire in him and brought a lot of fire into the dugout,” Poncedeleon said.
It was the only run State College would need.
Lee replaced Poncedeleon to start the sixth and pitched two flawless innings. Lomascolo followed with two strikeouts in 1 1/3 perfect innings. Grana sealed it with two strikeouts for the final two outs in the ninth.
“The pitching was fantastic tonight,” O’Keefe said. “We struggled offensively. You’re going to have those nights, but our pitching really carried us tonight and it was awesome working with those guys tonight.”
Notes: Hudson Valley and Tri-City each won Thursday night. Hudson Valley has a one-game lead over State College for the top seed in the New York-Penn League playoffs. Tri-City is one game behind the Spikes. … State College hosts Batavia for a two-game series starting at 7:05 p.m. Friday before finishing the regular season with two games at Williamsport. State College’s Will Anderson (6-2, 2.52) will be on the mound Friday, while Michael Mader (1-0, 2.03) is set to pitch for Batavia.