High School Sports

State College baseball cruises past McDowell to clinch spot in PIAA playoffs

Erie McDowell's Michael Ruf is out at second as State College's Matthew Tomczuk tries to turn a double play during the game on Wednesday, May 31, 2017.
Erie McDowell's Michael Ruf is out at second as State College's Matthew Tomczuk tries to turn a double play during the game on Wednesday, May 31, 2017. adrey@centredaily.com

In the span of 41 games in the last two years, State College coach Troy Allen said his team never played better than it did Wednesday.

The Little Lions pounded out 10 hits and kept constant pressure on McDowell to support another dominant start by ace Mason Mellott on their way to a 10-0, five-inning win in a PIAA Class 6A subregional game at Bald Eagle Area High School.

The combination of the offensive performance and Mellott’s effort on the mound drew praise from Allen after the game and clinched State College’s spot in the PIAA tournament. The Little Lions’ production at the plate during the postseason — they’ve scored 19 runs in two games — has particularly impressed their coach.

“I think we’re finally hitting our stride offensively,” Allen said. “I’ve always said that once we got to that point, we would be a dangerous team. I think that’s where we are. Over the last two games, our plate discipline has been pretty phenomenal. When they’ve the opportunity to jump on balls, they’ve jumped on balls.”

State College (11-10) walked 10 times and scored nine runs to roll past Altoona in the district championship game last Friday. The Little Lions showed that patience early Wednesday before their bats took over to end their game against McDowell by mercy rule, setting up a first-round state playoff game against the District 7 runner-up Monday at a site and time to be determined.

Christian Friberg finished 2 for 2 with a double and two RBIs, and Kevin Karstetter went 2 for 3 with an RBI to pace State College offensively.

The Little Lions’ pitching and defense proved to be the team’s strengths the last two seasons, while the team often struggled offensively in losses. This season, State College scored three or fewer runs in five losses — falling by one or two runs in each of those games. Allen said the Little Lions beat themselves in those low-scoring setbacks.

“That’s just not swinging the bat,” Allen said.

Allen’s team also faced top pitchers who hit the mid-to-upper 80s with their fastballs every game in the Mid Penn Conference. After battling in league play all spring, the Little Lions opened postseason play ready to hit against Altoona and McDowell.

“It’s kind of a breather to not be in it,” Allen said with a laugh, referring to Mid Penn play.

Allen sets his lineup according to the on-base percentages and batting averages of his players — and every Little Lion proved to be a threat Wednesday. Eight State College players recorded hits, and all nine reached base against McDowell.

Allen liked his players’ approach when they were ahead in the count and when they had two strikes. In the bottom of the fifth inning, Friberg continued State College’s offensive outburst by sending a two-strike curveball past the diving shortstop for a two-run single — pushing the Little Lions ahead 9-0 and setting up the chance to end the game in five innings.

“We’ve just been better with guys on base,” Friberg said. “Even though this is a state playoff game, I feel like we’re playing with less pressure.”

Friberg said the team doesn’t feel the pressure with Mellott on the mound. The right-hander carried his confidence from his lights-out performance in the district title game into the matchup with McDowell, and it showed as he allowed just one hit on a single up the middle in the second inning.

Mellott found his comfort zone in the first inning and recorded at least one strikeout in every inning.

“When the ball comes out of my hand, I just know right where it’s going,” Mellott said. “I pretty much don’t even have to look where it is. I already know it’s going to be right where I want it to be.”

Allen smiled as he said the performance was “Mason being Mason.” But the offensive effort set Wednesday’s performance apart as the best by State College in two years, and the Little Lions will look to carry that momentum into the state playoffs.

“We still have a lot of work left,” Allen said, “but I certainly haven’t seen them as confident as they are right now.”

Ryne Gery: 814-231-4679, @rgery