At times during the regular season, Mason Mellott lost sight of the big picture on the mound and worried about “small things” too much.
He thought about his ERA and giving up hits and runs in games instead of focusing on pitching and winning the game. The State College ace put pressure on himself to live up to his lofty expectations in leading the Little Lions this season before taking a more relaxed and confident approach into postseason play.
With that newfound focus, Mellott mowed down opposing hitters in District 6 championship and PIAA subregional games, and the right-hander continued to dominate in State College’s 1-0 win over North Allegheny in the first round of the PIAA Class 6A tournament Tuesday at Bald Eagle Area High School. Mellott allowed two hits and struck out 12 in the win to set up the Little Lions’ quarterfinal matchup against Penn Manor — which beat Pine-Richland 6-4 on Tuesday — at 4 p.m. Thursday at Newport High School.
“I think I’m a completely different pitcher right now,” Mellott said.
Mellott has been practically untouchable in three playoff starts, allowing five hits in 17 2/3 shutout innings while striking out 32. The right-hander now owns a 5-4 record with a 1.53 ERA, including his three wins in postseason play.
Going into the season, State College coach Troy Allen said he thought Mellott was the best pitcher in the state. After Tuesday’s win, Allen said his opinion hasn’t changed.
“I still do,” Allen said. “He doesn’t get a lot of the respect that some of the others get. Maybe because he’s not paying for these scouting services, but I dare somebody to find a better pitcher right now.”
Mellott cruised from the start against the Tigers as he struck out the leadoff and No. 2 hitters in the first inning. He didn’t run into much trouble all afternoon, but Allen made a quick visit to the mound in the third after Mellott gave up a two-out walk and started the next hitter with a pitch up and out of the strike zone. The Little Lion coach said Mellott needed to slow his mechanics.
When Mellott moves too fast, Allen said, he misses high. When his mechanics are under control, he pounds the strike zone.
Mellott finished the third inning with a strikeout and didn’t allow a hit until North Allegheny’s Bobby Brown singled up the middle in the fourth. While Mellott kept the Tigers off the board, State College failed to capitalize on opportunities. In the first inning, a Little Lions’ baserunner on third base got caught in a rundown before being tagged out. In the fourth, North Allegheny’s catcher picked off another State College baserunner on third base.
The baserunning mistakes sent the game to the fifth inning with both teams still searching for their first run. The Little Lions finally broke through that inning after Liam Clarke doubled, reached third on a groundout and scored on a Tigers throwing error with two outs.
One run proved to be plenty with Mellott on the mound.
“They look defeated,” Clarke said of North Allegheny’s hitters. “You had kids that go strike out three times, and they just don’t look like they’re having fun and playing out there. We’re all screaming and we’re having fun.”
That included Mellott, who came into the season with the goal of winning the state championship. But he didn’t pay attention to that goal while he was pressing during the regular season.
That all changed when he began to relax during the postseason, and he turned in his third straight dominant start Tuesday.
Mellott allowed a second hit — an infield single — with two outs in the seventh inning, but he responded by striking out Caiden Wood for the third time for his 12th strikeout.
“It’s a broken record,” Allen said. “The superlatives, you kind of run out of. Again, I just keep saying ‘Mason being Mason,’ but it was Mason being Mason.”