In his office after the State College Spikes’ season-opening loss, Johnny Rodriguez’s thoughts drifted to the game’s final out.
With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Spikes manager watched as Thomas Spitz aggressively rounded third base after a wild pitch and couldn’t recover on the throw by Williamsport catcher Gregori Rivero.
Crosscutters third baseman Jan Hernandez made the tag to hand State College a 3-2 loss Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
“We cannot — cannot — get thrown out,” Rodriguez said. “Why does he get thrown out? You have to make a strong turn. What happened when he turns fast, he goes back slowly and now he’s got to accelerate.
“I knew it. He’s out. Because when you make a turn like that, you know you got to bounce back. You cannot turn and go back to the bag slowly.”
State College starting pitcher Ian McKinney allowed three runs on eight hits in seven innings to take the loss.
Williamsport’s Alejandro Arteaga went five innings, giving up two runs on four hits to earn the win. Jason Zgardowski picked up the save.
Rodriguez said McKinney wasn’t at his best but started to find his rhythm in the fifth inning. The lefty allowed two hits and held the Crosscutters scoreless in his final three innings. He also limited the damage despite allowing five doubles.
“If you look at that line, you could be looking at six, seven runs,” catcher Brian O’Keefe said. “Now he did a really good job and made some good pitches when he needed to and we played pretty solid defense.”
The Spikes gave McKinney an early lead with two runs in the first inning.
Danny Martin started the inning with a walk and moved to third on Leobaldo Pina’s single. O’Keefe scored Martin with a sacrifice fly to right field. Pina moved to second on the throw to the plate and scored on Casey Grayson’s single to make it 2-0.
Williamsport responded in the top of the second.
Jesus Posso led off with a ground-rule double, moved to third on a balk and scored on a wild pitch. The Crosscutters took the lead with two runs in the top of the fourth after an RBI single by Jan Hernandez and an RBI ground-rule double by Venn Biter.
The Spikes stalled offensively after the first inning.
They had a chance to add to the lead in the second after a leadoff triple by Spitz. R.J. Dennard then sent a fly ball to left field, and Spitz attempted to tag up and score.
Williamsport’s Biter fired home, and Rivero handled a short hop and made the tag to get the out.
“We take a chance early in the game,” Rodriguez said. “We have momentum, we have a very fast runner and the left fielder’s running toward the line. The only way he gets him out is a perfect throw. He got us.”
State College failed to capitalize on its opportunities the rest of the night.
The Spikes finished 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. They had runners in scoring position in each of the final three innings, but came up empty each time.
With two outs in the seventh inning, Mike Pritchard advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt by Williamsport pitcher Will Morris, but Martin struck out looking to end the threat. With one out and Pina on second in the eighth inning, Grayson struck out looking and Cole Lankford grounded out.
The tension built as State College tried to even the score.
“You can kind of feel it in the dugout,” O’Keefe said. “It was the first game, your first time out for some of these guys and it’s everyone’s season opener, so you’re trying to hit that six-run home run and you could kind of see that.”
The Spikes’ final opportunity ended without a chance to drive the tying run home.
Spitz singled and stole second base on a 2-2 pitch to Dennard, who struck out swinging on the next pitch. Jhohan Acevedo flew out to right field, bringing Pritchard to the plate.
The 2-1 pitch skipped away from Rivero and toward the Spikes’ dugout to allow Spitz to take third. But the rally ended a split second later when he couldn’t get back in time.
“You cannot get thrown out,” Rodriguez said. “And I can’t put a leash on him.”
Notes: The Spikes and Crosscutters continue their series at Bowman Field on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. Right-hander Jorge Rodriguez is set to start for State College, while right-hander Franklyn Kilome will be on the mound for Williamsport. ... The crowd of 5,921 marked the second-largest in Spikes’ history.