The State College baseball team was heading into the District 6 playoffs with considerable momentum after several come-from-behind victories kept its nine-game win streak alive.
However, the top-seeded Little Lions finished the regular season losing two of three, and now face No. 4 seed Altoona in Class AAAA semifinal action at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said State College coach Bill Tussey. “We’ve learned a lot, not only with the long win streak, but the struggles on the other end.”
State College (14-6) shut out Altoona, the defending District 6 champion, 6-0 in the teams only meeting this season. Ben Finlan pitched a complete-game two hitter for the Little Lions.
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“The key to that one was getting pitching and playing good defense behind it,” Tussey said. “That was really the difference.”
State College’s pitching and defense sometimes left the team in a hole this season.
The Little Lions overcame a four-error game against playoff No. 2 seed Mifflin County, and five-error games against Cedar Cliff and also No. 3 seed Central Mountain.
During that stretch, senior left-hander Dan Fry came out of the bullpen to stabilize the mound and also earned three wins in the process.
In addition to Fry, timely hitting also helped the Little Lions.
On the season, Tanner Witter (.354) leads State College at the plate. He’s also been swinging a hot bat lately. He fell just a home run shy of the cycle in a 9-7 home win against Central Mountain.
“He’s not trying to force the issue,” Tussey said of Witter. “He’s doing a good job early in the count. Attacking his pitch. And when he gets two strikes he’s doing a very good job of protecting the plate…”
As a team, State College has 110 RBIs and seven players with 10 or more. Altoona has 78 RBIs and just three players with 10 or more.
Darian Herncane is a powerful senior at cleanup and leads State College with two home runs, is tied for tops in RBIs with 14 and also tied for second in hits with 19.
Fry, the team leader in ERA (1.69), is also the hits leader with 23.
Travis Baker is a player to watch for Altoona (8-11). The senior infielder leads the team in hitting (.389), runs scored (14) and RBIs (11). Altoona isn’t explosive offensively and can be susceptible to the strikeout.
The team scores just under five runs (4.94) per game and has struck out 113 times in 19 games this season (5.9 per game).
Nick Raquet, a junior pitcher who Tussey said is likely to start, is 3-2 with a 1.84 ERA and leads the team with 51 strikeouts.
Tussey said his entire staff would also be available in relief.
State College hasn’t played in more than a week when it split a doubleheader with a loss to Red Land and a victory over Mifflin County to end the regular season.
The layoff seems to concern Tussey.
“(Altooona’s) a solid ball club, fundamentally sound,” he said. “If they come in there with a hot pitcher anything can happen.”
“The scariest thing right now is hopefully this long layoff hasn’t cooled the bats off.”
Last season State College finished 9-6 and lost to Central Mountain 7-6 in the District 6 quarterfinals. Tussey hopes the experience of his senior class will lead to a stronger playoff run.
“We have a veteran club,” Tussey said. “We have a number of seniors who have been with us for a while. They have shown that they can execute... Now it’s just a matter of getting it done.”