As if his first appearance at Bowman Field wasn't enough, Cesar Valera has made his affection for the Williamsport ballpark quite well known Monday night.
The State College shortstop was 3 for 5 last night and drove in the game-winning run in the top of the eighth inning to give the Spikes a 7-5 win over the Crosscutters. Valera is 6 for 10 in two games at Bowman Field this year, and in both games he's knocked in the go-ahead run.
He also knocked in the go-ahead run in the Cutters' home opener on June 18 in the 11th inning.
Andrew Pullin throws back a fly ball from short right field Monday at Bowman Field.
"One thing he's doing better this year compared to the past couple years is he's slowing the game down," State College manager Oliver Marmol said. "He's letting the game come to him. He's nice and relaxed and even in pressure situations it's the same. When he's able to do that, he's a good enough athlete to have the success he's having.
With two outs in the top of the eighth inning last night, Valera punctuated his hot start against the Cutters, driving a double down the right-field line to score a pair of runs and turn a 5-4 deficit into a 6-5 lead. Bruce Caldwell followed with an RBI double to help give the Spikes its first win when trailing after seven innings in seven attempts this year.
It then turned a two-run lead over to a bullpen that has helped State College win all six games this year it has led after eight innings. The combination of Kevin Herget, Victor De Leon and Jeff Rauh combined to retire 14 of the final 15 Williamsport batters.
"In this league, with the type of arms we have in the pen, we have some power arms, if they pound the strikezone it's going to be very difficult for another team to score a lot of runs off us," Marmol said. "It'll be tough for them to string anything together."
Valera has been a thorn in the side of Cutters pitching in the four games the two teams have played. After last night he's 10 for 19 (.526) against Williamsport.
"He's an aggressive kid. I think if you can pitch ahead you can get him out," Prada said. "But he got good pitches to swing at."
Williamsport's offense got the job done through the first five innings. It responded to a one-run State College lead in the second by manufacturing a run, scoring Logan Pierce on an RBI groundout from Malquin Canelo.
After State College scored two more in the top of the third, knocking starter Mitch Gueller from the game after just 2 2/3 innings, the Cutters scored two more to tie, both on a two-run double from Pierce (3 for 4), who raised his batting average to .341.
"He's a sleeper we have in the bottom of the lineup. He's a college kid who has an idea at the plate and makes good adjustments to breaking pitches," Crosscutters manager Nelson Prada said. "This league is a lot of college pitching, so he should be able to handle it."
Williamsport took the lead in the bottom of the fourth inning, again manufacturing a run after Corey Bass led off the inning getting hit in the head with a pitch. Bass jumped to his feet after being hit and stayed in the game and later scored on an errant pickoff throw from Spikes starting pitcher Josh Lucas to give Williamsport a 4-3 lead.
Bass, the Cutters' third catcher who is getting a chance to play while Andrew Knapp battles a sore arm, extended the Williamsport lead in the fifth inning when he hit a sacrifice fly in the fifth inning to score Justin Parr. But after having the bases loaded with nobody out, Williamsport got just the one run in the inning. And after Bass' sacrifice fly, the Crosscutters had just two other baserunners over the final 4 2/3 innings.
"That's the best game he played pretty much the whole season," Prada said. "He threw a guy out at second base, he blocked the ball well, and he handled the bat well and executed. He did a pretty good job."
Gueller struggled in his first start at Bowman Field to put hitters away. Despite throwing first-pitch strikes to 12 of the 16 batters he faced, he couldn't seem to find a way to put hitters away. He had just one strikeout as he got a little too fine around the plate ahead in the count.
Gueller surrendered seven hits, six of which came with two strikes, and five of which came with two outs. He gave up an RBI infield single to Matthew Young in the second on a 1-2 pitch with two outs. He gave up an RBI single to David Washington on a 3-2, two-out pitch, and another RBI single to Carson Kelly on a 2-2, two-out pitch in the third.
"There's two different way to pitch. Do you want to get the out or do you want the strikeout," Prada said. "I think he tried to strike people out today and he had to throw tough pitches in tough counts."