State College pitcher Tristen Ballenger credited his teammates’ defense for his efficient start Monday.
Ballenger then mentioned his command, saying he trusted his pitches throughout his complete-game effort to help the Little Lions to a 4-2 win over Central Mountain in their regular season finale.
Ballenger scattered six hits, struck out four and walked two in the win. The left-hander limited the Wildcats to two hits in the final five innings, while the Little Lion defense made the routine plays behind him.
“I don’t think they had any mistakes, so we weren’t able to capitalize on that,” Central Mountain coach Michael Kramer said.
Pitching and defense have keyed State College’s strong finish to the regular season.
The Little Lions (15-5) have recorded three shutouts and allowed a combined nine runs during their six-game winning streak. Their last three wins came against District 6 foes Mifflin County, Altoona and Central Mountain — all potential opponents in the upcoming Class AAAA tournament. The brackets have yet to be determined.
In a rematch of the last two district title games Monday, State College got the best of the Wildcats again.
The Little Lions took a 1-0 lead on Sam Plafcan’s sacrifice fly in the first inning. Central Mountain tied it in the top of the second when Wyatt Koch scored on a wild pitch by Ballenger.
After allowing four hits in the first two innings, Ballenger pitched hitless innings in the third and the fourth.
“When they were making contact, they were getting a lot of ground balls,” State College coach Bill Tussey said. “That really was the key for him and mixing his pitches. He did a pretty good job even though he didn’t have total command of the curve. He mixed it in enough to keep them off balance.”
Meanwhile, the Little Lions pushed their lead to 3-1 with runs in both the second and third innings.
Brandon Raquet was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the second and Tyler Hall drove in a run on single in the third.
State College took that two-run advantage into the fifth, and Ballenger finally ran into trouble. The lefty gave up a one-out double to Central Mountain’s Alex Garbrick and hit Brandon Miller with a curveball. Garbrick then attempted to steal third, but Plafcan gunned him down to kill any momentum for the Wildcats.
Ballenger got Toner Corl to ground out to shortstop to end another scoreless inning.
“If it escalated to them scoring that run that inning, you never know what could have happened,” Ballenger said.
When the Wildcats finally cut into State College’s lead, there were two outs in the top of the seventh inning.
Central Mountain’s Koch led off with a single to right field and advanced to second on the Little Lions’ lone error. He moved to third on a groundout and scored on a sacrifice fly to bring his team within 4-2.
Ballenger ended the game on the next at bat, striking out Miller.
“We weren’t able to square too many balls up today,” Kramer said. “I thought we had good approaches, but when it was time to put a bat on the ball, we weren’t hitting a lot of them square. We spread out our harder hits.”
Chris Adams led State College offensively, going 3 for 3, scoring twice and stealing four bases.
“I think two of his hits were the other way, which is something he wasn’t doing earlier in the year,” Tussey said. “But now he’s starting to get that sense of ‘hit the pitch where it is’ rather than trying to yank everything. He’s really turned it on here of late.”
The Little Lions head into the postseason hot as a team, too.
They relied on pitching and defense to put together their six-game winning streak, and they’ll rely on their arms and gloves to extend that streak in the postseason.
“If you’re going to make a run at the end of the year,” Tussey said, “it’s pitching and defense that are going to carry you.”