At the start of the season, State College coach Bill Tussey trusted a pair of first-year varsity players to anchor his infield.
Tussey thought shortstop Chris Adams and second baseman Tyler Hall would take care of the routine plays, but they’ve surpassed even his expectations. Adams and Hall have each committed just two errors all season.
“That was I think one of our biggest pleasant surprises,” Tussey said. “Those two have played excellent defense all year for us to the point where our defense is probably the strength of our team right now. I give lots of kudos to those two.”
The top-seeded Little Lions (14-5) will be relying on their defense and pitching to stay strong as they open the District 6 Class AAAA tournament against No. 4 Altoona (9-10) at home Thursday at 4 p.m. State College, the defending district champions, captured the Mid Penn Commonwealth division title this season.
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The Little Lions rotation proved to be another pleasant surprise this year despite losing ace Nick Raquet early due to injury, with Kyle Peterson, Bailey Ishler and Tyler LeBarron each recording four wins. Brandon Raquet is also out due to injury.
The Little Lions have been inconsistent offensively, hitting and scoring in spurts throughout the season. Caleb Walls leads State College with a .429 batting average.
State College beat Altoona 2-0 during their regular season meeting. Ben Foose has started a team-high seven games for the Mountain Lions, going 3-3 with a 2.77 ERA. Trentin Martin is 4-1 with a 3.03 ERA. Altoona, which has a .252 team batting average, is paced by John McGinley (.351).
“From what we saw, we’re expecting a very tough game on Thursday,” Tussey said. “They played us very tight. They’re a very fundamentally sound team. I think it’s definitely going to be a challenge and we’re going to have to perform.”
Tussey said he is still weighing his options on the mound for Thursday, with Peterson, Ishler and LeBarron all in the mix.
Peterson (4-2) has a team-low 1.32 ERA in 37 innings. Ishler (4-0), a sophomore, has stepped up and thrown 31 innings. LeBarron (4-2) has been a top relief option, appearing in eight games with three starts.
“None of them had any varsity experience coming in, so I think they were all pleasant surprises, quite frankly,” Tussey said. “You never know what you’re going to do until you actually get out there and have to perform, and all three of them performed well for us.”
The same could be said for State College’s strong season defensively.
Adams and Hall made a seamless transition into their roles, providing a steady presence up the middle.
“Defense, it keeps you in game,” Tussey said. “So if we can generate any kind of offense, at least we have a chance.”