Midway through August, it appeared the State College Spikes were destined to be the No. 3 seed in the New York-Penn League playoffs.
But a torrid 15-3 mark down the stretch has landed them home-field advantage for the opening round of the playoffs.
State College, behind an outstanding start from Austin Gomber, closed out its torrid stretch run with a 6-0 romp against Williamsport on Monday afternoon at Bowman Field.
The Spikes (48-28) finished tied for first place with Tri-City, which held off Vermont 3-2 on Monday. The Valley Cats won a tiebreaker for the top seed thanks to a 2-1 edge in the season series against State College, which tied a franchise record with 48 victories.
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The second-seeded Spikes (48-28) will open the best-of-three opening round Wednesday at No. 3 Hudson Valley (46-30). They’ll return to Medlar Field at Lubrano Park 7:05 p.m. Thursday for Game 2. If Game 3 is needed, it will be at Medlar Field at 7:05 p.m. on Friday.
State College finished the regular season 23-15 at home and 25-13 on the road. Hudson Valley, which blew a three-game lead by going 2-7 down the stretch, swept the Spikes in a three-game series during their only regular-season meeting.
For the second consecutive outing against Williamsport, Gomber threw seven shutout innings. In his last two starts against the Crosscutters, the left-hander allowed no runs, nine hits and no walks, while striking out 11.
On Monday, Gomber allowed five hits and struck out four. He did not allow a runner past second base.
The Spikes never gave Williamsport a chance to derail their chances at clinching one of the top seeds.
State College scored two runs in the first inning off Williamsport starter Filiberto Sanchez (3-9) and never trailed.
With one out, Danny Diekroeger lofted a double that Crosscutter left fielder Wilmer Oberto lost in the sun. He moved to third on Nick Thompson’s infield single. Alex De Leon’s single to center drove in Diekroeger. After Brett Wiley walked to load the bases, Robelys Reyes plated Thompson with a groundout.
The score stayed that way until the fourth. Chase Raffield singled with one out. With two outs, Raffield swiped second base and came around to score on Darren Seferina’s single to center.
De Leon unloaded an inning later. Diekroeger reached on an error to lead off the frame. An out later, De Leon crushed an offering from Sanchez well beyond the left-center field fence, a shot more than 400 feet, to give the Spikes a 5-0 lead.
State College tacked on one more insurance run in the sixth thanks to the Crosscutters.
Raffield singled to open the inning. He was at second with two outs when Diekroeger lofted a fly ball to left that Oberto dropped allowing Raffield to score.
The six runs were more than enough for a State College pitching staff that held Williamsport to one run (Cord Sandberg’s homer in the first inning on Sunday) over the final five meetings between the two teams.
After Gomber’s outstanding start, Dylan Hawkins made his State College debut in the eighth and struck out one and walked one in a hitless inning.
Joe Scanio retired the side in order in the ninth to close out the triumph.
De Leon had three singles in addition to his long homer to lead the Spikes’ 12-hit attack. Seferina and Raffield added two hits apiece.
Sean McHugh and Oberto had two hits for the Crosscutters.