The State College Spikes took the early lead and never looked back in Game 3 of the New York-Penn League Championship series Tuesday night.
State College scored six runs in the first inning and rolled to an 11-2 win over the Tri-City ValleyCats, clinching the first title in franchise history at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium.
“It’s extremely special, man,” Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said. “It’s a good group. Not one guy carried this team, it was a team effort. And it really came together towards the end and made a run for it. That’s what makes it special. It’s an exciting night.”
State College got the best of Tri-City after falling to the ValleyCats in the championship in 2013. The Spikes finished with 15 hits, including two doubles, two triples and a two-run home run by Nick Thompson that sparked the six-run first inning as every starter reached base.
State College’s offensive onslaught came after scoring seven runs combined in its first five playoff games.
Spikes starting pitcher Daniel Poncedeleon went six scoreless innings, allowing three hits, striking out five and walking one to earn the win.
Tri-City starter Austin Chrismon went 1/3 of an inning, allowing five runs (four earned) on three hits to take the loss. The ValleyCats used five relievers to finish the game.
State College’s big night at the plate started against Chrismon in the top of the first.
After Danny Diekroeger drew a one-out walk, Thompson cracked a home run to left field to give the Spikes a 2-0 lead.
“With Thompson’s home run, you could tell the dugout had a little bit more pep to their step,” Marmol said. “And really just relaxed and got after it after that and strung together some really good at-bats.”
The Spikes’ inning was only starting.
Alex De Leon followed the homer with a double to right field. De Leon scored on an error by left fielder Derek Fisher on a fly ball by designated hitter Adam Ehrlich. Luis Cruz then doubled to right field, scoring Ehrlich and advancing to third on an error by ValleyCats right fielder Terrell Joyce.
State College led 4-0. Chrismon’s night was over after getting one out.
Tri-City reliever Robert Kahana did little to slow the State College lineup.
Brett Wiley, who made his first-ever start in the outfield in his three-year professional career, tripled to right field to score Cruz. Wiley scored on a wild pitch on the ensuing at-bat.
“There hasn’t been a whole lot of offense,” Marmol said. “And I wanted to switch it up and just change the routine up a little bit and see if we could score a couple runs. Thank God we did.”
State College finished with five hits and sent 11 batters to the plate in the first.
Ehrlich added to State College’s lead with a one-run single in the fourth. The Spikes scored four runs in the sixth, highlighted by a two-run single by Cruz.
On the mound, Poncedeleon turned in a strong outing to go with the offensive explostion. The right-hander limited Tri-City to one hit through four innings and finished his night with State College leading 11-0 after six innings.
“I think the bigger number’s zero, not 11,” Thompson said. “The pitching staff did great tonight. Ponce gave us six great innings of no runs, and any time you do that, you’re going to give yourself a great shot to win.”
Tri-City got on the board on a solo home run by Joyce off State College reliever Josh Lucas in the bottom of the seventh. Alex Hernandez singled home another run in the inning to make it 11-2.
State College relievers Nick Lomascolo and Kyle Grana pitched the final two innings to complete the win.
The players arrived in State College in June with the postseason in the back of their minds. And they achieved their goal as a team by capturing the championship Tuesday.
“It’s pretty unbelievable,” Thompson said. “I just think it’s just the culmination of all the work we’ve been putting in for three months together, and for other guys six, seven months going through extended (spring training) and college guys the same thing. It’s just an awesome feeling knowing that all the hard work this year paid off.”