When State College Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez watches Casey Grayson hit this season, he sees the same player he had in Johnson City a year ago.
Grayson started his professional career under Rodriguez with Rookie-level Johnson City, hitting .283 and learning how to handle playing every day. He’s used that experience to get to an impressive start for the Spikes and stayed hot with three hits and three RBIs to lead the Spikes to a 6-1 win over the West Virginia Black Bears on Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
Grayson went 3 for 3 with a walk and drove in State College’s first three runs in the win. He also extended his on-base streak to 14 games and raised his average to .408.
“He’s a professional hitter,” Rodriguez said. “He’s not your 4-hole hitter, like a major-league 4-hole hitter (who) drives the ball out of the park.”
Thomas Spitz and Harrison Bader each had two hits to contribute to the Spikes’ 11-hit night. State College starting pitcher Dailyn Martinez allowed one unearned run and three hits in six innings to earn the win. He also walked four and struck out two.
West Virginia (6-8) jumped out to a l-0 lead in the top of the first after Kevin Kramer walked, advanced to third on an error and scored on Albert Baur’s sacrifice fly to right field.
“People make errors behind you, you got to stay pitching your game,” Rodriguez said. “You can't let that affect you.”
Martinez did just that and received some help from his defense to keep the Black Bears off the board in the second inning with the score tied 1-1. State College (6-8) evened the score in the bottom of the first on Grayson’s RBI double to left-center field.
The Black Bears threatened to retake the lead in top of the second.
Daniel Arribas led off with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. When Deybi Garcia singled through the right side of the infield, Arribas rounded third to try to score the go-ahead run.
Spitz charged the ground ball in right field and fired to the first-base side of home plate, where catcher Brian O’Keefe received the ball before reaching over to tag Arribas just in time.
“I knew I had to get rid of it quick and O’Keefe had made a heck of a pick there and tag,” Spitz said. “And it was a great all-around play.”
Rodriguez called it a momentum-changing play.
“Because (if) they score, it changes the whole thing,” Rodriguez said. “And by the way, the runner went through a red light.”
Grayson then gave the Spikes the lead in the third.
After singles by Spitz, Mike Pritchard and Bader to load the bases, Grayson worked a full count and singled to right field.
Spitz and Pritchard scored to make it 3-1. Bader rounded third too far and got thrown out.
Bader said he’s already learned from Grayson’s approach at the plate.
“He settles in very, very nicely,” Bader said. “He doesn’t really get outside of what he’s trying to do. It’s something I can definitely learn from without a doubt. At the same time, his hot start has given me a lot of protection in the 3-hole. He’s doing an incredible job.”
Bader scored from second on a wild pitch in the bottom of the sixth inning to make it 4-1, and the Spikes added two runs in the seventh.
Spikes relievers Luke Harrison and Pedro Echemendia combined to pitch three scoreless innings to finish the game.
Rodriguez said he met with his players before the game and stressed maintaining control of their emotions.
After a loss Thursday, the Spikes bounced back to take the series Friday.
State College currently sits in a three-way tie with Auburn and West Virginia for second place in the Pinckney Division, seven games behind first-place Williamsport (13-1).
“Win the series, that’s all you got to do,” Rodriguez said. “And let things fall. I’m not worried about Williamsport. I’m worried about the next series.”
State College begins a three-game series at Auburn at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. Juan Perez (2-0, 1.80 ERA) is set to start for the Spikes.