STATE COLLEGE - Shawn Williams is well aware of the words he speaks every night after losses like Williamsport's 5-2 setback to State College on Friday.
The words are generally the same, lauding the Crosscutters' at-bats and shrugging off the positive results which have seemed to elude them. The first-year manager preaches patience. He preaches how eventually hard-hit baseballs which find gloves will eventually find holes.
Those were the words he spoke last night after the Cutters again struggled to get a big hit and back up a pretty good effort by the pitching staff.
"I know I keep repeating myself. But if we keep playing these tight games, I know it's going to turn around," Williams said. "I know things are going to turn around because we keep having good at-bats and we keep having good games every night."
Through the first two weeks of the season, Williamsport is 3-4 in games decided by three runs or less. By no means is the team panicking. By no means is the team worked up by the losses in well-played games.
It's part of the game. It's the cyclical nature of the game. Williams can point to various points in Friday night's game where one hit or one strike would have changed the complexion of State College's fifth win of the season over the Cutters. It's a positive sign because they have played well, they've been in games late and they're just a hit or a strike away from turning disappointing losses into momentum-changing wins.
"On our side, we're just not getting that big hit," Williams said. "And the more opportunities you have, the more you're going to start to get those. And it's contagious, too."
Friday night that missing hit came in the eighth inning with two outs and runners at the corners with Williamsport trailing 3-2. Justin Parr worked a 3-0 count in just his third start of the season. After Spikes reliever Nick Lomascolo got strike one, he got Parr to foul off what would have been ball four on a checked swing. Parr grounded out to first on the next pitch to end the threat.
It was the Cutters' best opportunity to tie the game after it had pulled within one run in the sixth inning on a two-out RBI single from Wilmer Oberto. And when State College added a two-run single in the eighth inning by Danny Diekroeger to push its lead to 5-2, a ninth-inning rally seemed unlikely.
"A three-run difference in the ninth inning as compared to a one or two-run lead makes all the difference in the world," said State College's Adam Ehrlich, who drove in one of the Spikes' five runs. "Now they have to string together three or four hits in an inning to get back into it, and against (Josh) Lucas, that's pretty tough to do."
Cutters starting pitcher Feliberto Sanchez struggled to work ahead of hitters last night, and it eventually caught up to him. He fell to 0-3 this year after allowing seven hits and three runs in just 4 2/3 innings.
Sanchez, who was 89-92 with his fastball, threw a first-pitch strike to just nine of the 21 batters he faced. Just 43 of the 75 pitches (57 percent) he threw were strikes.
After Williamsport tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the third, Sanchez went 2-0 on three consecutive batters at the top of State College's lineup. Two of them recorded hits on the 2-0 pitch, with Ehrlich's being an RBI single to left-center field to score Robelys Reyes. And the damage could have been worse if catcher Sean McHugh hadn't caught Jhohan Acevedo stealing second base earlier in the inning.
Sanchez was pulled after he walked Ehrlich in the fifth inning with two outs and a runner on first. Ricky Bielski relieved and promptly walked Alex DeLeon on a 3-2 pitch, and then hit the New York-Penn League's leading home run hitter Rowan Wick with the first pitch of his at-bat to force in a run.
It was Bielski's first outing since he hit two batters against Jamestown on Sunday and was ejected and suspended three games. Following the initial two batters, Bielski settled and didn't allow anymore damage.
"It doesn't matter who is up with us," Ehrlich said. "Whoever is up is going to do the best they can to put the ball in play and hit it hard somewhere. They do whatever they can to get the runners in."
"(Sanchez) did fall behind, but he did a good job of pitching with guys on base and minimizing the damage," Williams said. "He gave up three runs, but he did a good job of just holding them to that by making good pitches with guys on base."