If the State College Spikes are going to make the New York-Penn League playoffs, manager Johnny Rodriguez has said they’ll need to get on a roll at some point.
Rodriguez watched his team put together four three-game winning streaks but fail to build any momentum in June and July. The Spikes followed each stretch of success with one marked by losses or .500 play. Their record reflected that struggle as they have stuck around .500 for much of the season.
State College took another three-game winning streak into Tuesday night and nearly saw it come to an end after giving away an early four-run lead. But the Spikes bounced back to beat the Mahoning Valley Scrappers 7-5 at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, completing a three-game sweep and extending their win streak to a season-best four games.
State College (26-24) remained a half game back in the wild card standings. The Lowell Spinners lead the race, and the Connecticut Tigers are tied with the Spikes in second place. State College begins a three-game series Wednesday at the Brooklyn Cyclones, who are 1 1/2 games back in the wild-card standings.
“It ain’t gonna get easy,” Rodriguez said. “This is a dogfight. It’s a footrace and a dogfight.”
State College’s Kender Villegas pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief to earn the win. Jery Then pitched two scoreless innings to pick up the save. Spikes designated hitter Orlando Olivera went 3 for 4 with four RBIs and broke a tie with a two-out, two-run single in the seventh inning.
Olivera’s clutch hit proved to be the difference as the Spikes stayed hot in August.
“If you’re the one that’s up there, you got to get the job done,” Olivera said. “And tonight it was me. Tomorrow, it’ll be somebody else.”
Rodriguez said momentum started to build last Thursday when the State College outlasted West Virginia for a 10-inning victory. The Spikes finished that series with another 10-inning win to start their four-game winning streak.
That’s when Rodriguez noticed momentum pick up again.
“You could feel it, the energy in the dugout,” Rodriguez said. “That energy led to the first two games here and then also it led to the first 4 2/3 innings.”
It came to a halt in the fifth after the Spikes allowed a two-out pop-up to fall for a single, leading to a four-run inning that tied the game.
Spikes starting pitcher Juan Perez allowed a single and two walks to load the bases for Mahoning Valley’s Juan De La Cruz. The Scrappers cleanup hitter skied a 2-2 pitch toward the first base line, a pop-up that brought State College catcher Jesse Jenner out from behind the plate and first baseman Casey Grayson into the infield grass. Perez drifted off the mound and made a last-second lunge at the ball.
It dropped in for a single.
Instead of the inning ending, Silento Sayles scored to cut the Spikes’ lead to 5-2 and the bases remained loaded. Perez walked Connor Marabell to score another run, ending his outing after 4 2/3 innings.
“The balloon popped on that pop-up,” Rodriguez said. “I saw it. I felt it.”
Villegas entered in relief and allowed a game-tying, two-run single to Daniel Salters. Perez allowed five runs, five hits and four walks. He also struck out three.
Rodriguez said his players said they didn’t see the pop-up off the bat. But the manager said Grayson still needed to take charge, running to the spot and calling off his teammates to at least make a diving attempt. The manager said the play deflated his team and called it “the type of play that can ruin a season.”
“I walked out on the field and I saw no effort that following inning,” Rodriguez said. “I walked in. I said you’re champions, you better show me some guts. If not I’m putting another team out there. I’m bringing the whole bench out. I told them just like that. I saw better effort.”
Villegas shut down Mahoning Valley for two innings, and Olivera came through with the two-run single in the seventh.
“Villegas was the MVP,” Rodriguez said. “He stabilized the game.”
The Spikes start a three-game series at Brooklyn at 7 p.m. Wednesday. Landon Beck (1-3, 2.79) will be on the mound for State College, while Tyler Badamo (2-5, 3.10) is set to start for Brooklyn.