STATE COLLEGE - The one last gasp for Williamsport's offense landed in the glove of third baseman Ronnierd Garcia, the State College third baseman who was sliding on his left hip.
Jan Hernandez had hit the 8th-inning pitch hard into the hole between third and shortstop with two runners on and two outs in a four-run game, but Garcia slid, snaring the ball almost after it was already past him. He spun to his feet and his throw was dug out of the dirt by Jake Stone at first to end the eighth inning.
Williamsport went on to lose, 6-2, Saturday night at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park, starting the season 0-2 for the first time since 2008 when the Crosscutters lost their first two games to Mahoning Valley.
"That was some play," Crosscutters manager Shawn Williams said of Garcia's stop and throw. "And the pick by the first baseman?"
After scoring two runs in the first inning and collecting four hits in the first two innings, Williamsport's offense went quiet. Credit defensive plays like Garcia's gem and Robelys Reyes' diving stop up the middle. Credit strong pitching by Spikes starter Steven Farinaro over the final four innings of his outing. And credit five strikeouts over the final four innings by Spikes relievers Trey Nielsen, Jeff Rauh and Jacob Booden.
The four State College pitchers combined to retire 17 in a row from the end of the second inning until Robinson Torres' leadoff walk in the top of the eighth inning. Nielsen, a 30th-round selection in last year's draft, struck out four in two innings working his way through the heart of the Crosscutters' lineup.
"Nielsen was able to get in there and locate his fastball and pitch off of it," Spikes manager Oliver Marmol said. "His breaking ball looked really good, too."
"We hit some balls hard. We hit a lot of balls hard," Williams said. "Kids like (Rhys) Hoskins keep hitting the ball hard and can't get anything to fall."
For five innings it looked like the two first-inning runs may have been enough to back Cutters pitcher Ricardo Pinto. The 20-year old right-hander dazzled a Spikes lineup with a fastball he ran up to the plate as fast as 95 mph, a breaking ball which had them flailing, and a change-up which had hitters way out in front.
Pinto, who was 10-8 with an ERA under 3.00 in 24 starts over the last two years in the Venezuelan Summer League, struck out two batters in each of the first two innings. He finished with eight strikeouts, a career high, in 5 2/3 innings.
He left after struggling to get through the sixth inning, walking the final batter he faced to load the bases. Reliever Delvy Francisco's first pitch was pulled wide and catcher Deivi Grullon didn't get to it.
The passed ball allowed Stone to score to tie the game, and when Grullon's throw to the plate kicked away from Francisco, Nick Thompson scored the second run of the inning. Four pitches later, Luis Cruz singled through the left side on a 2-2 pitch to score Alex De Leon to give State College a 4-2 lead it never relinquished.
All four runs were charged to Pinto, but only one was earned. Cutters starters Pinto and Alejandro Arteaga allowed a combined 10 runs in the first two games, but only two were earned.
"He was really pitching well, just like he had been doing in extended. I'm sure he had a little extra out there with it being opening night (for State College) and with all the fans. I thought he did a really good job," Williams said. "He always has that good fastball. I like how he's very aggressive with it. He loves to throw his fastball and makes them put it in play."
"The two-out hit by Cruz was huge," Marmol said. "And we were able to take advantage of their mistakes. It was a big inning."
State College added two more runs against Francisco in the seventh inning. Francisco faced six batter last night, with five of them reaching base. Reyes' single in the seventh scored Jhohan Acevedo after he led off the inning with a walk and a stolen base.
Three batters later, reliever Elniery Garcia induced a ground ball with the infield in for the Crosscutters, but the Spikes' Leobaldo Pina beat Malquin Canelo's throw to the plate for a 6-2 State College lead.
Williamsport rallied in the eighth and ninth innings, getting two runners on base in each frame. The sliding stop in the eighth inning ended that threat, and a ground ball to shortstop in the ninth inning ended that threat with the tying run in the on-deck circle.
Cord Sandberg continued his hot start for the Cutters, going 2 for 4 for the second consecutive night and adding a stolen base.
"The good thing is how we've finished both games and the fight we wowed with some good at-bats," Williams said. "Even (Saturday) I thought the whole game was a solid game for us. We had a lot of hard contact in the middle innings and just couldn't get a baserunner. It's how the game is sometimes."