State College coach Troy Allen smiled and shrugged as he explained he expects his ace dominate in every outing.
Even after watching Little Lions pitcher Mason Mellott’s best start of the season — after watching the right-hander pile up 12 strikeouts in 5 2/3 scoreless innings to earn the win — Allen wasn’t blown away or surprised. Mellott met his coach’s expectations in leading No. 1-seed State College to a 9-4 win over No. 2-seed Altoona in the District 6 Class 6A championship game Friday at Peoples Natural Gas Field.
Mellott, a senior who is headed to Penn State, allowed two hits and two walks before leaving the game in the sixth inning with his team ahead 9-0.
“It’s a hard thing to put into words because I’m proud of him,” Allen said. “I put so much pressure on him, and he never fails.”
The Little Lions reclaimed the district title after falling in the semifinals a year ago, and Mellott called Friday’s victory a team effort before discussing his sparkling effort on the mound. State College drew 10 walks, including three with the bases loaded, to kick-start its offensive performance. The Little Lions scored five runs with two outs in the third inning and added four runs with two outs in the fifth on their way to their fourth district title in five years and first under the second-year coach Allen.
State College will take on McDowell in a PIAA subregional game at 4 p.m. Wednesday at Bald Eagle Area.
“We’ve been playing for this game and beyond,” said Christian Friberg, who recorded a two-run single in the third inning. “And we took care of business today.”
Mellott came into this season throwing harder with better control, leaving teammates walking away from his bullpen sessions laughing during preseason workouts. In appearances during the regular season, Mellott owned a 2.36 ERA, and he struck out a season-high nine batters in a 1-0 win over Cedar Cliff in April. But he was never better than Friday, overpowering Altoona with his fastball and slider.
Allen knew he simply needed to slow Mellott to help him maintain his control. The right-hander usually loosens up 30 minutes before a start, but he started his routine in the bullpen with Allen 45 minutes ahead of the game. The coach made his ace take several breaks and constantly reminded him to slow down. During the game, Allen didn’t give catcher Tyson Cooper signs as quickly to control Mellott’s pace on the mound.
The right-hander hit his spots all day and dominated after allowing a leadoff single in the first inning. He recorded three strikeouts in the third inning, two more in the fourth and struck out the side in the fifth.
Mellott finished his outing with two strikeouts in the top of the sixth, firing a high fastball by Altoona’s No. 3 hitter Elliot Mast and painting the outside corner with an 87 mph fastball to get cleanup hitter John Gority looking.
“I knew I was better than them today just ’cause I had my stuff,” Mellott said.
His fastball consistently hit the mid-to-high 80s on the stadium’s radar gun to go with his nasty slider. Mellott felt he could go to the slider at any time and estimated Altoona hitters might have made solid contact on the pitch on just two foul balls.
That pitch caught State College shortstop Gavin Schaefer-Hood’s attention during the offseason.
“He made it look a lot like his fastball,” Schaefer-Hood said. “The deception on that pitch is fantastic.”
While Mellott cruised on the mound, his Altoona counterparts struggled. With two outs in the third inning, Altoona starting pitcher Jake Stolarski walked two hitters to load the bases before walking Schaefer-Hood to allow the game’s first run to score. Kevin Karstetter added a one-run single, and Friberg capped the five-run inning with a two-run single.
The Little Lions scored four runs in the fifth to send Mellott back to the mound with a 9-0 lead.
After starting the inning with two strikeouts, Allen walked to the mound to take the ball from his right-hander and patted him on the back as he headed to the dugout. In the seventh inning, Mellott led the charge to the celebratory dogpile, waiting outside the dugout with a group of players with two outs before sprinting to the mound to join the rest of the District 6 champion Little Lions.
“I’m happy for the boys more than anything else,” Allen said. “They wanted something special for themselves this year, and so for me, that is what I’m most happy about.”