Ronnie Williams was off.
The 20-year-old right-hander (and 2014 second-round pick of the St. Louis Cardinals) had only given up 12 runs in 40 1/3 innings and had the best ERA of any starting pitcher on the Spikes roster entering Saturday night’s series finale against the Auburn Doubledays.
He even looked confident to start, throwing four scoreless innings and only ceding two hits. The 6-foot, 170-pound Williams has a natural release and a poised command, as well as a brusque, aggressive cadence.
But in the fifth and sixth, he began to slip and ultimately took the 8-4 loss after giving up five runs on six hits.
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According to manager Johnny Rodriguez, Auburn’s staff and players had started chirping at Williams. The chatter got into his head, and his team’s.
“He kind of lost a little bit of his stuff; it’s rare,” said Rodriguez. “We had the team down. You don’t wake them up. We woke them up.
“That little yelling that went on … I told the guys, ‘They’re gonna wake up.’ You’re dealing, you’re in the zone. Now they got a hit, and you can’t find yourself again.’ ”
Auburn scored three in the fifth, including the go-ahead run via a Blake Perkins RBI groundout. Jack Sundberg hit an RBI single that made it 3-1.
Williams’ command faltered in the sixth and led to a wild pitch that allowed Tres Barrera to score from third, and on the very next pitch Oliver Ortiz cracked a line drive to center field that sent home Jake Noll.
“You have to stay within yourself,” said Rodriguez, who echoed the same message to the team after the game. “When they were yelling, I never once looked at the manager … We had beat them five straight times. We allowed them to fight … In baseball, you have to have a slow heartbeat.
“I don’t know exactly how it happened. It looks like when the guy popped up, he said something. They chirped, the manager kept going. Then our side did it wrong, they all started yelling until I had to say ‘Enough.’ ”
In the seventh, Williams was pulled for setup man Max Almonte, who gave up three runs in two innings.
State College got two back in the ninth when Anthony Ray singled to send in Andy Young and Tommy Edman singled to the exact same spot to send in Danny Hudzina from second base.
Matt Davis loaded the bases and Jeremy Martinez hit a bloop RBI single to cut the Doubledays’ lead to four. But the rally was stalled as Auburn pitcher Phil Morse struck out two with the bases loaded to end the game.
Movin’ on Up
The Spikes announced the promotion of infielder Josh Swirchak to the Single-A Peoria Chiefs on Saturday morning.
Swirchak, a Wilmington University product, was batting .186 with five RBIs.
The Spikes have six players who have batted in double-digit RBIs this season. Ricardo Bautista has 16, Tommy Edman has 16, Vince Jackson has 20, Jeremy Martinez has 13, Ryan McCarvel has 21, Elier Rodriguez has 12 and the rest of the team has combined for 26 (157 total).
State College: The Spikes (23-12) hit the road immediately for a 4:05 first pitch against Batavia on Sunday, and continue a three-game series against the Muckdogs.
Auburn: The Doubledays (16-19) head to Williamsport for a three-game series, the first of which starts at 5:05 p.m. on Sunday.