STATE COLLEGE - Getting better all the time, the State College Spikes gave Mahoning Valley the broom treatment Sunday night at Medlar Field, completing a three-game sweep of the Scrappers with a 6-5 win.
For the Spikes, the win was their fourth in a row and fifth in their first seven games. The Spikes are also unbeaten on their home turf in 2012 at 5-0.
As for the improved play of the Spikes, manager Dave Turgeon feels it is due to good pitching and hard work in the area of situational hitting.
"We work on situational hitting seven days a week," Turgeon said. "(Dave Howard) is an outstanding teacher of the fundamentals. He is also demanding to the point where he will run guys out of the cage at times when they aren't executing properly. There are days where situational hitting is the primary focus of our team offense. We crank it up off the velocity and put them in stressful situations. That is all Howie and he knows how I love that part of the game and that we have to play that part of the game well."
So what has Turgeon seen from his troops seven games into the season.
"We have some athleticism and obviously we can handle the bats a little bit," he said. "We can run a little and we are pitching it good enough, but make no mistake about it, we have a lot to work on fundamentally. We were sloppy the first six games here, were better today and we have some guys who we are moving around and I think they are beginning to feel more comfortable with each other. When things are going good offensively, it tends to sugar coat the situation but in the end, the game will reveal what we need to work on."
It is no secret that the Spikes had more than their share of problems catching and throwing the ball in the first few games. However, those are two areas that Turgeon has seen improvement in.
"I think defensively it is much like it is offensively in that the more you play, the more you find your rhythm," Turgeon said. "We have some guys who are beginning to settle in a little bit to find their rhythm defensively. We have some guys we are mixing and matching with and the more that improves, the better off we'll be in the long run."
The Spikes jumped on top 2-0 with a pair of runs in the bottom of the first. Jodaneli Carvajal opened with a base on balls and Chris Diaz followed with a sharp single to right. With one out, Samuel Gonzalez ripped a single to center, chasing both Carvajal and Diaz across the plate.
Gonzalez finished with a pair of hits, was on base three times and drove in a pair of runs as well. For his well-balanced effort, he was named the Spikes Player of the Game.
"I was thinking about that at-bat and I try to keep in my mind to drive the ball to right field," Gonzalez said. "If a guy hangs a breaking ball then I am still able to stay on the pitch."
Moving from catcher, where he was a New York-Penn league All-Star last season, Gonzalez says he feels a lot more comfortable playing the infield positions as opposed to working behind the plate.
"I feel a lot more relaxed in the infield because I am not nearly as tired as I was when I was catching," he said. "I just feel a little more refreshed coming in every day now that I am in the infield."
While Gonzalez made a lot of offensive noise for the Spikes, so did catcher Ryan Hornback with a single and triple in four at-bats while also making a lot of intelligent decisions defensively.
"He made a couple of key plays, blocks, early calls, great fundamental execution out at first which was not as easy as it looked and he did a good job of catching the knuckleball which in itself is no easy task," Turgeon said. "For him, I think today he just played the game well all the way around."
With the Spikes edge holding through the first three innings, the Scrappers parlayed three singles, a walk and a wild pitch into three runs to take a lead, but it was short-lived as the Spikes plated a single run in the bottom of the fourth.
Yhonathan Barrios worked Scrapper starter Jake Sisco for a free pass, Barrios stole second, went to third on a throwing error charged to catcher Charlie Valerio and scored on a groundout RBI by Jared Lakind.
Leading 4-3, the Spikes added a pair of insurance runs in the eighth on a triple by Hornback and RBI singles by Barrios and Jared Lakind. It turned out the Spikes needed the two extra runs as the Scrappers scored twice in the top of the ninth to set the final.