State College was still searching for its first hit with two outs in the second inning.
The Little Lions then pounded out four straight hits to score four runs and take control of their PIAA Class AAAA play-in game against DuBois on Thursday. Four innings later, the Little Lions put together another four-run inning to pull away for a 9-4 victory Thursday at Philipsburg-Osceola High School.
The Little Lions clinched a spot in the PIAA tournament and will face WPIAL runner-up Norwin in the first round Monday at a site and time to be determined.
State College finished with 11 hits en route to its victory over the Beavers on Thursday.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
“We’ve been doing a better job putting the bat on the ball,” State College coach Bill Tussey said. “And hitting’s contagious. You see it all the time. One guy hits a rope and it just charges that next guy up, gets him more focused and then he does the same thing and that’s really what they did. They did a great job feeding off each other today.”
Ben Shawley went 3 for 4, scored twice and drove in two runs, and Caleb Walls was 3 for 4, scored a run and drove in two to lead State College offensively.
They each had two-out, two-run singles in the Little Lions’ four-run second inning.
State College starting pitcher Tucker Triebold sparked the rally with a two-out double down the right field line. Tyler Hall, who walked earlier in the inning, advanced to third on the play, and Greg Copenhaver entered as a courtesy runner at second.
Shawley then singled through the left side of the infield to score both runs.
After Brandon Raquet singled up the middle, Walls lined a single to left field to push the Little Lions ahead 4-0. Walls later tripled and singled to round out his three-hit day, continuing his hot postseason after he doubled and tripled in the District 6 championship game Tuesday.
The senior said he hasn’t put as much pressure on himself recently.
“I was in the leadoff spot at the beginning of the year,” Walls said. “They moved me to the 2 spot and it’s just more focusing on moving runners around, getting on base and it’s working pretty well.”
DuBois answered in the bottom of the second.
Braden Paulinellie tripled to the right-center field gap and scored on Zach Sloan’s single up the middle. Sloan later scored on Devin Clark’s triple to the left-center field fence, cutting State College’s lead to 4-2.
That marked the end of Triebold’s outing as Tussey turned to Tristen Ballenger. The State College left-hander got a strikeout to end the inning and went on to earn the win.
Ballenger limited DuBois to two runs and three hits in 4 1/3 innings of relief.
“I’ve been inducing ground balls, fly balls,” Ballenger said. “So I’ve just been trusting my stuff and my mechanics and going out there and throwing it like I always have.”
Ballenger retired DuBois in order in the third. The lefty avoided a jam in the fourth with some help from Walls on Alex LaBue’s two-out single to right field.
DuBois’ Paulinellie was on first and attempted to get to third on the single, but Walls gunned him down with a one-hop throw to third baseman Chris Boal to end the inning.
Walls then led off the fifth with a triple and scored to push State College’s lead to 5-2.
Ballenger allowed a run in the bottom of the fifth, but limited the damage by getting a double play.
“He keeps the ball down,” Tussey said. “He can throw his breaking pitch for a strike, which is a huge plus in high school. Not many high school pitchers can consistently throw that for a strike. He just battles. He’s a competitor. Tristen’s done a nice job for us all year.”
State College put the game away with a four-run sixth inning, highlighted by Sam Plafcan’s two-out, two-run single.
The Little Lions scored seven of their nine runs with two outs, and they recorded nine of their 11 hits in two big innings.
“It seems like when we hit,” Tussey said, “we all hit together.”