A tasty dinner is in Alex Garban’s future.
State College baseball coach Bill Tussey has a deal with his pitching staff: If one of them pitches a complete game in 75 pitches or fewer for a win, he will buy the pitcher a steak dinner.
The Little Lion senior came through on the mound Thursday afternoon with a five-hit shutout and a 1-0 win over Mifflin County, and the team really needed it.
“Now I’ve got to fork out for that,” Tussey said. “But he earned it.”
Caleb Walls’ third-inning RBI double accounted for the scoring as State College closed the Mid Penn Conference portion of the schedule. The Little Lions (13-5, 9-5), winners of four straight and nine of their last 11, had hopes of catching Central Dauphin for a three-way tie atop the conference’s Commonwealth Division, but the Rams beat Cedar Cliff to win the title outright.
State College has three starting pitchers sidelined with injuries, lost at least for this week. With two others already having pitched earlier this week, only Garban and Bailey Ishler were available for Thursday, and Tussey had his fingers crossed.
“We were hoping Alex could do that and he did a great job,” Tussey said. “It really exceeded expectations. That was huge for our pitching staff.”
In his first start for either the varsity or junior varsity, Garban struck out three and walked four, and did it all while throwing exactly 75 pitches to earn his dinner. The wait was worth it to crack the rotation.
“There are so many good pitchers here, once you get an opportunity you’ve got to take advantage of it,” Garban said.
After a walk to start the game, he retired the next nine straight, getting plenty of help from his defense.
“I knew they were going to hit me, I just hoped we could field it,” said Garban, who mixed a curve ball with a nice bite with an effective fastball. “(Mifflin County) is a heck of a hitting team. I’m just shocked that I didn’t give up one run at all. They hit me so hard. Our defense just made the plays everywhere.”
The defense came through with a number of stellar plays to preserve the shutout.
A walk to Hunter Walker and single from Isaiah Kearns opened the fourth for Mifflin County (11-7, 8-6). With one out, Tyler Powell singled to left field and Walker rounded third too far and was caught in a rundown. The other runners moved up to second and third but a line-out ended the threat.
“I knew I could have confidence in my defense,” Garban said. “If I threw strikes I’d give us a chance and that’s all we needed.”
After a double play in the fifth, another threat came in the sixth with a leadoff double by Max Remy and a Walker single. After a strikeout of Kearns, who entered the game batting .464 and is headed to West Virginia, Little Lion second baseman Tyler Hall dove to smother Zach Hostetler’s sharp grounder to get the out but allow the runners to move up a base. Another tough grounder was scooped up by shortstop Chris Adams to end the threat.
“I thought we hit the ball very hard,” Huskies coach Travis Zook said. “Unfortunately, either we hit it at someone or ... I thought State made at least three outstanding defensive plays. They had two in the (sixth) inning that really kept us off the board.”
In the seventh, Carter Spade’s one-out grounder was mishandled, and a single, strikeout and walk followed to load the bases. But Garban got Walker to line out to Hall on that 75th and final pitch to end the drama.
“That’s the only way I do it,” Garban joked, drawing a pair of teammates walking past to turn and smile at the comment. “I don’t feel comfortable unless the bases are loaded or it’s a full count. If you ask anybody that’s ever played baseball with me, it’s unlike me not to have the bases loaded.”
The Little Lions were having their own issues with Mifflin County starter Peyton Reesman, who is heading to Pittsburgh. Other than the third inning, only four other State College runners even got into scoring position and the team left seven runners on base. Reesman gave up just four hits, walked five and struck out seven.
“He pitched a nice ballgame too,” Tussey said. “He had us off balance the whole time. We were fortunate enough to scratch out a run, and to be honest I didn’t think that was going to be enough.”
In the third, Brandon Raquet led off with a single, stole second for his third steal of the day, moved to third on a wild pitch and easily trotted home on Walls’ double to the right-center gap.
“You’re proud of the team because they rose to the occasion,” Tussey said. “When the pressure was on, they made the plays, got the pitches they needed.”