Long road trips are something the State College baseball team has grown comfortable with.
They’ve provided the Little Lions plenty of time to bond and see much of the midstate. They’ll see more on Thursday and even meet new foes in the process. The Little Lions recent trip will take them closer to the Mason Dixon line where the Lower Dauphin Falcons stand in the way of State College’s path to high school baseball’s ultimate prize.
State College (17-6) will face the Falcons (20-5-1) at Green Township Park in Scotland, Pa. Following the just over two hour ride from Happy Valley, a trip to the PIAA Class AAAA semifinals will be up for grabs.
“This is a pretty well-traveled ball club,” State College coach Bill Tussey said. “Playing in the Mid Penn, that won’t be new to the boys. ... I would say they’re pretty excited at this point.”
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And for good reason.
This is the deepest the current group of Little Lions have ever advanced in the postseason. A State College team had not won a PIAA game since 2007. The current crop changed that with a 9-3 whipping of J.P. McCaskey. The last time the Little Lions made it to the finals it was 2005. The last time a State College team won a state title? 1976.
First thing’s first, the Little Lions must beat the Falcons, the District 3 champions who cruised to a 9-3 win over Council Rock North in the first round.
“They’re just, quite frankly, a solid, all-around ball club,” Tussey said of the Falcons who play in the Mid Penn Keystone division. “They play very fundamentally sound defense, good pitching. They’re going to definitely be a challenge.”
Tussey’s scouting report on the Falcons sounded quite similar to what Lower Dauphin can expect from the Little Lions.
Eight of State Colleges hitters rocked pitches against the Red Tornado. Aside from two back-to-back errors in the only frame McCaskey scored runs, the State College defense was flawless. They even turned in two highlight reel pick offs in the first inning to deal the Red Tornado crushing outs early.
The Little Lions also snapped out of an offensive funk that reared its head in the District 6 title game against Central Mountain. While they won that game, the Little Lions got little offense from anyone not named Jason Costa who turned in all three of State College’s RBIs.
Tussey and his staff have taken measures to avoid another offensive letdown.
“We had our lefty and righty coaches throw and we had them flip-flopping in batting practice and that helped a lot,” Nick Smith said of State College’s practice sessions leading up to the J.P. McCaskey game.
Their practices since have remained focused.
“The reality is you don’t know but you just concentrate on what is their focus when they go to the plate? What is their approach?” Tussey said. “You try to keep that approach positive and we’ll see how that works.”
Nick Raquet will get the start for State College. Lower Dauphin could send right-hander Blair Lewis to the mound. He’s 9-1 on the season so far.
Either way, it’s a road game the Little Lions, who are 8-3 in games played away from Happy Valley, are primed for.
“The guys have been very focused at practice. They’ve had two pretty good days,” Tussey said. “They’re just going to take it one game at a time and in their words, they’re going to give it their all and see how it goes.”