The play at the plate brought State College Spikes manager Johhny Rodriguez from the dugout and left catcher Jose Godoy crouching in front of the plate.
Tri-City’s Carlos Carrasco lifted a fly ball to shallow left field, where State College’s Mike Pritchard made the grab and the ValleyCats’ Johnny Sewald took off for home. Pritchard fired a one-hop throw to Godoy, but Sewald just beat the play to score the go-ahead run in the eighth inning.
Rodriguez discussed the close play with the home plate umpire, and Godoy spiked his helmet in frustration. It proved to be the game-winning run in Tri-City’s 8-7 victory over State College on Saturday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
But Rodriguez blamed the Spikes’ shortcomings for losing a game they led 5-1 after three innings and battled back to tie after seven innings.
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“It doesn’t cost us the game,” Rodriguez said. “(A) 5-1 lead, you’ve got to pitch better. 5-1 lead, starters got to pitch better, relievers got to pitch better. … You have a 5-1 lead, you just tie the game after they take the lead, pitchers got to pitch better. Bottom line. It ain’t the umpire.”
Spikes starting pitcher Juan Perez finished the inning to complete his four-inning outing with his team ahead 5-4. Perez allowed four hits and five walks while striking out three.
After Luke Harrison pitched two scoreless innings of relief, Tyler Bray allowed three runs on four hits in one inning. And Kender Villegas allowed one run on three hits in two innings of relief to take the loss.
The Spikes (10-11) finished with a season-high 17 hits, led by three-hit performances by Pritchard, Godoy and Casey Grayson.
They built an early 5-1 lead, pounding out 10 hits and scoring five runs in the first three innings.
They recorded four singles and scored two runs in the second and piled up five more singles and added three runs in the third. Grayson’s RBI single in the third extended his on-base streak to 20 games and his hitting streak to 11 games.
But Tri-City (11-11) sliced into State College’s comfortable lead with one swing of the bat in the fourth inning. After Bobby Wernes singled and Garrett Stubbs walked, Brooks Marlow drilled a three-run home run to right field off Perez.
“He was up in the zone,” Rodriguez said. “He got away with a lot. We got a lead, I said boy, I don’t know if he can hold this.”
Another home run gave the ValleyCats the lead in the top of the seventh.
Bryan Muniz singled up the middle and Dexture McCall crushed 1-2 offering from State College reliever Tyler Bray over the left-field wall 378 feet from home plate. The two-run shot pushed Tri-City ahead 6-5, and Wernes drove in another run on a double down the right field line.
This time, it was Bray who failed to get the job done. He threw 35 pitches in one inning and walked off the mound with the Spikes trailing by two runs.
“He didn’t have it today,” Rodriguez said. “His ball was just flattening out in the zone. There was nothing below the strike zone from Bray today. Everything was straight.”
State College responded immediately.
Grayson singled through the left side of the infield to pull the Spikes within one run, and Godoy’s bloop single to center field tie it 7-7.
But State College’s mistakes in the ninth inning prevented any hope of another comeback after Tri-City went ahead on Carrasco’s sacrifice fly in the eighth.
Grayson led off the ninth with an infield single. Josh Swirchak entered to pinch run with Leobaldo Pina at the plate. Pina failed to get a bunt down, and Swirchak was caught stealing on a 1-2 pitch.
Rodriguez said Tri-City reliever Adam Whitt sped up his delivery on the steal, something Swirchak should have noticed.
“If he slide steps, if he quickens up, you don’t have to go,” Rodriguez said.
Pina grounded out and Cole Lankford lined out to end the game.
“The three keys to this game,” Rodriguez said of the lackluster pitching and failed bunt and steal attempts in the ninth.
Notes: Spikes center fielder Craig Aikin was ejected after striking out looking in the bottom of the sixth inning. … The Spikes and ValleyCats continue their series at 6:05 p.m. Sunday. Landon Beck (1-1, 1.13) will be on the mound for the Spikes, while Agapito Barrios (0-0, 2.25) is set to start for the ValleyCats.