When Danny Martin skied a shot toward the left-center field gap, he thought he’d be returning to dugout after a flyout.
The State College Spikes second baseman ran hard out of the box as Connecticut center fielder Joey Havrilak and left fielder Christin Stewart tried to chase down his fly ball in the deepest part of Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Havrilak lunged at the ball, but it dropped in and rolled to the National Penn Bank Nook sign located 410 feet from home plate. Martin had been running with head down most of the way, but look up to see the ball kick off the wall, where Stewart barehanded it and fired to shortstop A.J. Simcox in left field.
At that point, Martin said he ran as fast as he could and Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez had already decided to go for the inside-the-park home run.
“Once I saw Johnny waving me around third base,” Martin said. “I wasn’t sure if he meant to stop me or not honestly. I hit the base straight in and had to make a pretty big turn after that.”
Martin slid in safely for a two-run inside-the-park home run, providing the highlight of State College’s 7-5 win Friday night. It was the fourth inside-the-park home run in Spikes’ history and the first since Barrett Barnes achieved the feat July 4, 2012, at Tri-City. Martin’s homer gave the Spikes a four-run lead in the second inning, but Connecticut battled back to tie it in the top of the sixth.
Casey Grayson’s two-run double in the bottom of the sixth proved to be the difference. Grayson extended his on-base streak to 19 games and his hitting streak to 10 games.
Spikes reliever Pedro Echemendia pitched two innings, allowing two runs on three hits to earn the win. Jacob Evans threw two scoreless innings to pick up the save.
State College finished with seven hits after managing a combined five hits in the first two games of the series.
“I think we executed today,” Rodriguez said. “That’s what we did offensively. We executed the little things, steals, hit and runs, extra base, put the ball in play, situational hitting.”
The Spikes took control with a two-run first inning that started with a leadoff double by Thomas Spitz, who scored on Craig Aikin’s single. Aikin stole second, knocked the ball into left field on the slide and advanced to third.
He then scored on a groundout by Jesse Jenner to push State College ahead 2-0.
Martin added to the lead in the second inning.
R.J. Dennard drew a two-out walk before Martin came to the plate for his first at bat. After taking a pitch low, he attempted a drag bunt that went foul.
Martin sent the next pitch to the left-center field gap.
As he rounded third, the crowd reacted to the possibility of an inside-the-park home run.
“The only way they get him out is a perfect, perfect throw,” Rodriguez said. “And the shortstop was way out there so I said, ‘No way.’ Two outs, we’re going.”
The throw was high and off line, and Martin slid in safely to push the Spikes ahead 4-0.
Martin finished 2 for 3 after missing the previous seven games with a groin injury.
“It’s tough to hear sometimes not being able to play, but it feels great now,” Martin said.
Spikes starting pitcher Dailyn Martinez went five innings, allowing three runs on six hits. He was pulled after allowing a single and a double to start the sixth inning. Rodriguez said Martinez started to tire after loading the bases and allowing a run in the fourth.
“He threw 27 pitches that inning and thank God they only got one run,” Rodriguez said.
The Tigers erased the deficit in the sixth, scoring three runs to tie it 4-4 on a double by Tanner Donnels and groundouts by Padron and Steven Fuentes.
The Spikes answered with three runs in the bottom of the sixth, including Grayson’s two-run double to make it 6-4.
“He put a good swing on that outside pitch,” Rodriguez said. “It was not a bad pitch. That pitch was not a bad pitch. … It was a good piece of hitting.”
Leobaldo Pina followed with an RBI single up the middle.
After struggling offensively the previous two nights, Rodriguez said his team executed but didn’t break out of its slump.
“We haven’t broken out yet,” Rodriguez said. “Not yet.”
Notes: State College has now won three straight series. … The Spikes begin a three-game series against the Tri-City ValleyCats on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. The series is a rematch of the last two New York-Penn League championships, with each team winning one. … Juan Perez (2-1, 2.87 ERA) will be on the mound for the Spikes, while Trent Thornton (1-0, 1.38) will get the start for the ValleyCats on Saturday.