Gabriel Lino turned his front shoulder in toward the plate and then backed out of the way. He was trying to sell to home plate umpire David Arrieta that the 3-2 pitch from State College's Brady Adamek was inside.
But even before Arrieta took a step back to ring up Lino for the strikeout, the Williamsport catcher was starting to walk toward the dugout. It was a gutsy full-count pitch from Adamek to strike out the Crosscutters' No. 5 hitter with the tying runs on base in the ninth inning.
Adamek didn't stray too far away from that breaking ball for the next two hitters as he induced a pop-out to catcher Luke Voit and struck out pinch-hitter Gustavo Martinez on another stellar curve to preserve State College's 3-1 win over the Cutters at Bowman Field on Wednesday night.
Williamsport Crosscutters left fielder Justin Parr leaps to make a catch on the warning track on Wednesday against State College at Bowman Field.
It was the sweeping breaking ball to Lino, though, which set the tone for Adamek to wiggle out of the jam he created. It was a do-or-die pitch with Lino representing the game-winning run after a Dylan Cozens single and a Zach Green double.
"That's a hell of a pitch because that's the winning run you're putting on first base there (if it's a ball)," Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said. "So that shows mental toughness and the competitiveness of the kid."
Adamek's breaking ball was clearly his best pitch when he entered the game in the ninth inning, but he got hurt on a pair of fastballs to start the inning. First Cozens flared a hit out to center field, then Green (3 for 4, two doubles) jumped all over a fastball for a double to the left-field corner to put runners on second and third with nobody out and the Cutters trailing 3-1.
Adamek tried to get Lino to chase a pair of breaking balls off the outside edge, working the count full. He then came back with the curve on the inside corner for a strike.
Adamek came back with a first-pitch strike to Pierce, the Cutters' best hitter in recent days, before getting him to pop up the second pitch in foul territory to Voit. Martinez, who didn't start either of the last two days because of a foot injury, pinch hit for Jiandido Tromp and struck out on a 2-2 breaking ball in the dirt.
Voit pumped his fist as he tagged Martinez to end the game.
"We had it where we wanted it," Williamsport manager Nelson Prada said. "We have three good opportunities to tie the game. It was one of those days."
"I wish he would have went to his best pitch earlier," Marmol said of Adamek. "He made it very interesting. But he beared down and competed. He made a mistake to Greene, but he beared down after that and made some really, really good pitches in order to get out of it."
Last night was just the second time this year Williamsport was held to two runs or fewer in a game. And it came on a night where the Cutters' pitching staff was brilliant despite giving up three runs.
The first two runs came on a Cesar Valera two-run home run off of starter Drew Anderson. Valera's homer made him 13 for 24 (.542 batting average) this year against the Cutters with seven extra-base hits.
It was one of two mistakes made by Anderson, the other was a first-pitch to David Washington which the No. 5 hitter drilled for a two-out RBI double in the sixth inning to push State College's lead to 3-1. Anderson threw six innings last night, allowing just five hits and striking out five.
"Drew did even better than when he threw the no-hitter," Prada said. "He was aggressive with his pitches and only walked one guy."
It was a common theme among the four Williamsport pitchers last night. Lee Ridenhour needed just seven pitches (six strikes) to complete his one inning. Josh Warner, who was recently moved to the bullpen, got a pair of strikeouts looking on curveballs in a 12-pitch, 1-2-3 eighth inning. And after a leadoff walk, Tyler Buckley induced three infield outs in the ninth inning.
The four pitchers combined to give up just five hits, only the second time this year they've allowed the New York-Penn League's best hitting team fewer than 10 hits.
"We have hitters up and down the lineup," Ridenhour said. "The results are usually good when you keep a team to three runs or less. (Wednesday) was just one of those days."
But for as good as the Cutters pitching staff was last night, State College's was even better. In a piggy-back situation, the Spikes' Nick Petree and Jimmy Reed each threw four innings.
They combined to throw first-pitch strikes to 21 of 29 batters faced and threw 77 of 112 pitches (68.7 percent) for strikes. They each faced more than four batters in an inning just once. Petree's came in the second inning when he walked Lino and gave up an RBI double to Pierce. Reed's came in the sixth when Andrew Pullin and Green both singled, but Lino struck out on a high fastball to end the threat.
"Going into this game, you feel confident with that combo," Marmol said. "Having Petree and Reed going back-to-back means you have the bullpen nice and fresh and you have your pick out there. We feel it's going to be a good, low-scoring ball game, so if you can put up a couple runs, and tonight we put up three, that's usually going to be enough."
Williamsport ran itself out of one of its best scoring opportunities when it had Green on second and Lino on first with one out in the fourth inning and Pierce at the plate. Pierce worked the count full, but never saw another pitch.
Green was picked off of second as he took off on first movement, but Petree turned back toward second and got him in a rundown for the out at second. Before throwing another pitch, Petree made a quick move to first and picked off Lino for the final out of the inning.
"I think Green got a little confused. When we say 3-1 or 3-2 we're running, it's an action count," Prada said. "You have to treat it like a hit-and-run. You have to let the pitcher throw the ball. If he throws the ball and it's strike three with my best hitter at the plate, then that's my fauly. But make sure you don't get picked off. It's not a steal, it's just an action count."