State College starting pitcher Will Anderson received a round of applause from the crowd with two outs in the sixth inning.
Anderson got off to a perfect start, retiring the first 17 Hudson Valley batters before Alec Sole sent a single to right field. The fans were clapping again, some even standing, when Anderson walked toward the dugout after allowing the Renegades’ third hit with one out in the eighth inning.
The Spikes ace led the second-seeded Spikes to a 3-0 win in Game 2 of their New York-Penn League best-of-three semifinal series Thursday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Anderson went 7 1/3 innings, striking out four, walking none and allowing three hits to earn the win.
The Spikes planned to have Anderson on the mound with their season on the line, but the right-hander said he tried to treat it like any other start.
“I don’t want to go out there thinking it’s a win-or-go-home situation because I think it puts a little extra stress on me,” Anderson said. “But I just try to go out there and have the same mentality I do every start.”
The win forced a decisive Game 3 against third-seeded Hudson Valley set for 7:05 p.m. Friday at Medlar Field. The winner will advance to the best-of-three championship series to face top-seeded Tri-City.
The ValleyCats swept their series against Connecticut with a 6-5 win Thursday night.
State College reliever Josh Lucas pitched the final 1 2/3 innings to pick up the save.
The Spikes came into the night facing elimination after dropping the first game to Hudson Valley 3-0.
“That’s what we talked about this afternoon,” Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said. “We got the guys together, we said, ‘Our backs are against the wall. Only one way to go and it’s forward.’ Let’s come out throwing punches and see what happens and that’s exactly what these guys did.”
The Spikes got on the board in the first inning.
Darren Seferina led off with a single to left field. He then advanced to third on a wild pitch, never hesitating around second as the ball bounced to the backstop. Seferina scored on a groundout by Nick Thompson to give State College a 1-0 lead.
State College added to the lead in the second after Robelys Reyes tripled and later scored on a sacrifice fly by Jhohan Acevedo. The Spikes added their third run in the sixth inning, when Thompson scored on an error by Hudson Valley third baseman Coty Blanchard.
That was more than enough for Anderson, who was State College’s top pitcher all summer.
He made an All-Star appearance and finished the regular season 6-2 with a 2.43 ERA in 12 starts. His steady performance wasn’t lost on Marmol as he set his postseason rotation.
“When you talk about a three-game series, Game 2’s the most important one because it could take you to Game 3 or it could go ahead and win it for you,” Marmol said. “And we wanted to make sure that Anderson had the ball Game 2.”
And the Spikes wanted to make sure he was at his best.
Anderson did not make the trip to Wappingers Falls, N.Y., for the first game of the series. He said he spent most of Wednesday playing Xbox before tuning into the game on the radio.
“I was trying to take some notes on what those guys were doing,” Anderson said. “It seemed like they were taking the first pitch a lot and then I just kind of worked with the game plan from there.”
Anderson pounded the strike zone, working ahead of Hudson Valley. He threw 60 of his 81 pitches for strikes.
He got off to a smooth start in the first inning, throwing nine pitches to retire the Renegades in order. Through five innings, Anderson had retired all 15 batters he faced in 51 pitches.
By then, he was aware he was working on a perfect game.
“I think when I got done with the fourth, I was like, ‘Crap, I got a perfect game going right here,’” Anderson said. “And then I started noticing no one was talking to me in the dugout. It’s another one of those things where you just try not to think about it.”
After getting two outs to start the sixth, Sole singled to end the perfect game.
A double dropped right down the left field line by Braxton Lee suddenly put State College’s 2-0 lead in danger. But Anderson regrouped to get out of the inning and pitched into the eighth.
Marmol called it a gutsy outing by Anderson.
The right-hander kept State College’s championship hopes alive for another night.
“This is probably the most confident and comfortable I’ve been in a playoff situation as far as trusting the guys and trusting what they’re able to do,” Marmol said. “We’ll come out tomorrow and do the same thing, prepare the same way and give it our best shot.”