STATE COLLEGE - There was both good and bad news for the State College Spikes Friday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.
The good news came in the first inning when the Spikes wasted no time manufacturing a run to take a 1-0 lead.
The bad news was the rest of the game - the Spikes were held scoreless for the next eight innings. While that scoring drought was taking place for State College, Connecticut took the lead with a pair of runs in the sixth before adding another pair in the eighth for its 4-1 win.
Sentinel photo by STEVE MANUEL
State College Spikes left fielder Wes Freeman, left, can’t reach the ball as it drops between him and center fielder Junior Sosa during Friday’s game against Connecticut at Medlar Field in State College. Connecticut defeated the Spikes 4-1.
Although unable to score more than one run, Spikes manager Kimera Bartee felt his players had good swings at the offerings.
"We hit the ball well. A couple of the guys squared it up real well, but they hit it right at people," he said. "We just couldn't get the ball to bounce our way. We had a chance to score in the first and we took advantage of it. We had a chance to score in the next inning and we didn't take advantage of it. If we would have scored that run (in the second inning), it might have flipped the whole momentum of the game, but that is something we'll never know. Whenever we have a chance to execute, we have to do it if we are going to be competitive."
The Spikes got on the board in their first at-bat when Junior Sosa perfectly executed a drag bunt, went to second when Alex Dickerson worked Connecticut pitcher Matt Crouse for a base on balls, advanced to third when Crouse uncorked a wild pitch and scored the game's first run on a RBI groundout by Samuel Gonzalez.
As for being able to "add on," Bartee sees it as getting three or more guys to put together a group of good at-bats.
"If we can just get three guys to put together quality at-bats, that is a run," he said. "If you look at any inning when a team scores, unless you strike lightning, it usually comes down to three guys putting together quality at-bats. We did that in the first inning when we got the runner on, we got him over and then we got him in. That is usually the way it is and that is how we have to play it."
Spikes starter Matt Benedict pitched five strong innings, allowing just three hits and no runs. He walked one and struck out five.
"I thought it went well for me tonight," Benedict said. "I struggled in a few starts earlier in the season, but I made a few adjustments since then, both physically and mentally and that has really helped me."
As for what the turnaround has been for him, the right-hander feels it was more mental than physical.
"I think it has been more of a change of mindset and staying focused," he said. "The difference between tonight and maybe some of the other nights is that I changed my mindset and tried to stay more focused from pitch to pitch, not necessarily from one at-bat to another. You have to grow throughout the season and sometimes even when you experience success, you have to learn from that and carry it over to your next outing."
With the 1-0 State College lead holding into the top of the sixth, the Tigers got their bats warmed up against Spikes reliever Josh Poytress for a pair of runs to take a 2-1 lead. With the Spikes' bats still looking for a way to generate some type of offense, the Tigers added another pair of runs in the eighth to increase their lead to 4-1 and they never looked back.
"Maybe one or two pitch selections, you know, one here and one there," Bartee said of the Tigers being able to score. "Giving them something too good and it ended up costing us. Little things like that cost you and that was pretty much the story of tonight's game."
The same two teams will be right back in action against each other tonight in a single game slated for a 7:05 first pitch.
The Tigers will give the ball to Thomas Collier, while the Spikes will counter with Ryan Hafner (2-3).
Notes: Going into this weekend's series with Connecticut, the Spikes had won 10 of their last 13 games. Two players have been very instrumental in the recent success: catcher Sammy Gonzalez and outfielder Wes Freeman. During his last 10 games, Freeman has been on fire with the stick, showing a batting mark of .419 (18-43). Freeman also has smacked seven doubles, one triple and shows six RBIs. Not far behind his teammate, Gonzalez is hitting .382 (13-34) during the same span with a triple, home run and five RBIs. Ironically, the pair figured in the 10th inning heroics in the Spikes 5-4 win over Aberdeen Thursday when Gonzalez stroked a walk-off RBI single to center field, chasing Freeman home with the winning run ... The Tiger roster features a couple of players with familiar surnames. Patrick Leyland, son of former Pirates manager and current Detroit skipper Jim Leyland is a catcher with Connecticut. Joining Leyland in the land of familiarity is infielder Colin Kaline, the grandson of former Detroit Tiger outfielder Al Kaline.