Jesse Jenner stood on third base looking for an opportunity to race home.
The State College Spikes were in a scoreless battle with the Connecticut Tigers, and Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez told Jenner to expect a ball in the dirt and be ready to react. Jenner saw his chance to race home when Connecticut reliever Gerson Moreno’s 0-2 pitch to Cole Lankford skipped away from catcher Kade Scivicque.
Jenner took off immediately. Scivicque quickly chased down the wild pitch on the first base side of home plate. Moreno covered home and caught a flip from his catcher.
“About three-quarters of the way down the line, I almost regretted running,” Jenner said. “I was like ‘Oh, here we go.’ I thought I was gonna be out.”
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But Jenner slid feet first to beat the tag for the Spikes’ first run in a 4-0 win in a rain-shortened, seven-inning game Wednesday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Each team managed just three hits in the game, but the Spikes drew three walks and the Tigers (9-9) committed two errors.
Spikes starting pitcher Ian McKinney pitched six scoreless innings to earn the win. McKinney allowed three hits and one walk and struck out four. Luke Harrison had two strikeouts in one inning of relief for State College (9-9).
Rodriguez said it was McKinney’s best start of the season.
“That’s the guy I know more than what I saw the other three starts,” Rodriguez said. “That’s more him — to be able to throw that breaking ball with good spin action.”
McKinney retired the first six batters he faced, but he said he was at his best by the third inning.
Connecticut’s Tanner Donnels led off the inning with a single for the game’s first hit. McKinney then got Corey Baptist to pop out to Lankford in foul territory and Steven Fuentes to hit into an inning-ending double play.
“I’d say around the third inning, fourth inning I really started to feel it,” McKinney said. “First couple innings, I wasn’t really feeling my offspeed (pitches) but I was still getting guys out thankfully with my fastball.”
State College struggled offensively against Connecticut starter Tyler Alexander.
Alexander held the Spikes hitless in three innings. Spikes shortstop Leobaldo Pina walked in the second inning, but he was stranded after a groundout and strikeout.
Rodriguez told his team to be aggressive against Alexander, who allowed one hit in four scoreless innings in his previous start against Lowell.
“He’s going to try to get a strike on you, so hunt the fastball early,” Rodriguez said. “And what happened? We did the right approach, but we didn’t put good swings on it.”
The Spikes recorded their first hit and started to threaten in the fourth inning against Moreno.
Jenner drew a one-out walk before Casey Grayson lined a single into right field, extending his on-base streak to 17 games and his hit streak to eight games. Jenner moved to third on Grayson’s single, giving the Spikes the opportunity to strike first in a game affected by the weather. Rodriguez told Jenner to prepare to race home on a ball in the dirt.
With Pina at the plate, Moreno bounced a pitch off the plate, but Scivicque blocked the ball to keep Jenner at third. After Pina struck out swinging, Lankford faced an 0-2 count with two outs. Moreno bounced another pitch, but this time, it got away from Scivicque.
Jenner didn’t hesitate and scored the go-ahead run, making what Rodriguez considered the defining play of the game.
“I thought we were gonna play five innings,” Rodriguez said. “I said we needed a run, be aggressive and he took off. That was a beautiful slide, unbelievable slide.”
State College added three runs in the bottom of the fifth.
Josh Swirchak led off with a ground ball to third and reached base on a throwing error by Fuentes. R.J. Dennard then walked before Craig Aikin struck out.
Thomas Spitz followed with a double to right field, scoring Swirchak to make it 2-0. With Dennard on third and Spitz on second, Mike Pritchard sent a sacrifice fly to right field to add another run.
Connecticut’s Jordan Smith replaced Moreno on the mound with two outs and Spitz on third. Baptist booted a ground ball to first by Jenner to allow the fourth run to score.
A rain delay after the top of the seventh inning ultimately ended the game.
“It affected the whole game,” Rodriguez said after the teams played several innings in a light rain before it was halted. “It all depends on who you have on the mound. McKinney’s used to this.”
The Spikes and Tigers continue their series at 7:05 p.m. Thursday. Jorge Rodriguez (1-1, 3.95) is set to pitch for the Spikes.