Jesse Jenner didn’t expect to be part of a hit-and-run in the second inning.
Normally, Jenner said, State College Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez makes that aggressive call later in games. But Rodriguez decided his team needed the spark early after Mahoning Valley got on the board and Scrappers starting pitcher Kieran Lovegrove zipped through an eight-pitch first inning.
So after Jenner led off with a single, Rodriguez called for the hit-and-run with Cole Lankford at the plate. Lankford lined a double down the left field line, and Jenner easily scored to tie the game.
“That set the tone for the game,” Rodriguez said. “It got a little momentum.”
Lankford’s double sparked a three-run inning, and the Spikes beat Mahoning Valley 4-1 on Sunday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Lankford finished 2 for 3 with two doubles, scored two runs and drove in another to lead State College offensively.
Spikes starting pitcher Jorge Rodriguez went six innings, allowing one run and five hits to earn the win. The right-hander also struck out three and walked one. Kevin Alexander pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings of relief to pick up the save.
State College (24-24) is now a half game back of Connecticut, Lowell and West Virginia in the New York-Penn League wild-card race.
Rodriguez struggled in the first inning, allowing back-to-back doubles by Sam Haggerty and Ka’ai Tom to start the game. Haggerty left with the trainer after his leadoff double and was replaced by Mark Mathias, who scored on Tom’s double down the right field line.
Rodriguez later walked Juan De La Cruz to load the bases with one out, but he escaped the jam by getting Nate Winfrey to ground into a double play.
“He’s a very emotional pitcher and sometimes that works against him when things get a little bit sped up,” said Jenner, the Spikes catcher. “I think he speeds up a little bit. But I think he did a really nice job calming down with the bases loaded.”
Lovegrove took the mound in the bottom of the first and retired the Spikes in order in eight pitches.
“He’s a pretty good pitcher — the ball sinks and moves a lot, so he’s a guy who’s around the plate,” Johnny Rodriguez said. “His stats don’t show it, but he had it today.”
That prompted Jorge Rodriguez to go into the second inning looking to make something happen.
Jenner lined a single through the right side of the infield on the first pitch he saw, and the Spikes manager had his opportunity. After Jenner took off, Lankford executed with a double to drive in State College’s first run.
“He just hung a change up up in the zone,” Lankford said of Lovegrove. “I was able to put a good swing on it, but Johnny made the right call and turning us, getting the game going and starting off the run.”
The run continued with Jhohan Acevedo’s double to left-center field, falling just out of the reach of a diving attempt by Tom to score Lankford. And it finished after Acevedo advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on an error by Winfrey at first.
The Spikes led 3-1, and Rodriguez finished his outing with five scoreless innings.
“He was at 77 pitches after six,” Johnny Rodriguez said. “We could have gone one more but he had a little tightness in the calf the inning before. I didn’t want to push it.”
The Spikes added an insurance run in the seventh.
Lankford led off with a double down the left field line and scored on a double by R.J. Dennard.
Max Almonte and Alexander held Mahoning Valley scoreless in the final three innings to close out State College’s third win in four games.
“We’ve done the little things the last four games and that is what it takes to qualify for the playoffs,” Rodriguez said. “Good pitching, timely hitting, execute hit-and-runs, execute a bunt. … We’re doing the little things that you need to do.”
Notes: The Spikes and Scrappers continue their series Monday at 7:05 p.m. Dailyn Martinez (2-3, 3.86) will be on the mound for State College, while Leandro Linares (0-4, 5.45) is set to start for Mahoning Valley. … Lankford started the game at first base to give Casey Grayson a break. Grayson played in 45 games going into Sunday and entered Sunday’s game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning.