STATE COLLEGE -The adage says defense wins championships.
In the first two games of the State College Spikes' young season, that was not the case.
The Spikes dropped the first two games of a three-game series with the Williamsport Crosscutters by a combined 10-1. Their defense was the culprit, giving up most of those runs on a total of four errors in the first two games. The Spikes only run in the first two games came on a solo home run by Wes Freeman.
In Sunday night's series finale with Williamsport, defense and pitching carried the Spikes to a 3-0 victory over the affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies. The win marked the Spikes' first win of the short season in their home opener.
In front of a record attendance of 5,836 at Medlar Field, Matt Benedict made his professional debut after being drafted in the 30th round in 2011, and he was firing on all cylinders. After the nerves subsided for the 22-year-old prior to the game, he was virtually unhittable.
"I was trying to stay relaxed throughout the day," Benedict said. "When I stepped on the field that's when I felt a little excited and got a little juiced."
When a 90 mph fastball was delivered for Benedict's first pitch, the nerves were wiped away. The young prospect forced two ground outs, followed by a strikeout to sit down the Crosscutters in the first inning.
Benedict continued his three innings of work with 1-2-3 second and third innings. After the third inning, he was pulled because he was on a pitch count. Benedict finished his outing giving up no hits and striking out two.
"He was good getting strike one on a hitter," Spikes manager Kimera Bartee said. "It was a short time out there and I was like 'dang,' but we're in development and he was just extremely efficient."
Leaving after the third inning made Benedict feel like he wasn't even out there Sunday.
"I'd say I got off on the right foot," he said. "I felt like I calmed down when I got out there. By the time the game was over I felt like I threw yesterday."
With one run over the last two games, the Spikes were in need of a few timely hits to get their bats going. In the second inning, they did just that.
Samuel Gonzalez led off the inning with a hustle double to right field after the Crosscutters' Witer Jimenez misplayed the ball. After Michaelangel Trinidad grounded into the first out, Brian Sharp stepped in and delivered a scorching single back up the box to plate the game's first run.
Freeman then singled to put runners on first and third with Jorge Bishop digging into the batter's box. Bishop lifted a fly ball to left field and Sharp scored easily on the sacrifice fly, making it 2-0.
That would be all the support State College needed.
The Spikes used three different pitchers over the final six innings to secure the win. Bryce Weidman picked up the win in relief of Benedict and pitched three innings of two-hit baseball. Mitch Fienemann locked down the save with a scoreless ninth. Combined, State College struck out nine Williamsport hitters en route to the three-hit shutout.
"We're the same team we were the last two games," Bartee said. "That's what it's all about, pitching. That's exactly what we need to do to be successful."
The Spikes' strung out nine hits Sunday, which is one more than they had their first two games combined. Leading the way for State College was Gonzalez, who finished 2-for-4 and a run scored.
Carlos Mesa drove in the Spikes' third run with an RBI-double in the fifth to finish off the scoring.
This marked the 38-year-old manager's first victory in the professional ranks.
"If it was about me, I'd be happy," Bartee said. "But I am happy, but the kids are going to dictate how good they're going to be."
The Spikes' defense was rock solid throughout the game. The infield worked numerous diving stops and laser arms across the diamond. Included in the night of outstanding plays was a circus-like 4-6-3 double play to end the only threat the Crosscutters gave all game.
"They (the defense) were unbelievable," Benedict said. "We made a few ridiculous plays out there tonight."
The Spikes stay at home to start a three-game set with Auburn tonight. Highly touted Pittsburgh pitching prospect Stetson Allie - a 2010 second-round choice - will take the mound to make his professional debut. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.