Failed bunt attempt halts potential 9th-inning rally

Whichever way Aaron Brown picked to run, he was probably going to be wrong. So he dropped anchor for a few seconds as the baseball fell to the ground in front of State College first baseman Alex DeLeon.

Williamsport’s Emmanuel Marrero had been trying to get down a sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning of a one-run game at Bowman Field on Thursday night. But he popped the pitch up, leaving Brown, a pinch-runner at first base for Deivi Grullon, with nowhere to go.

DeLeon fielded the ball on a hop, tossed to first for one out, and the ball was relayed to second to get Brown there trying to advance. The Crosscutters’ ninth-inning rally was stopped in its tracks as State College won its fourth game against the Williamsport this year, 3-2.

The loss for the Cutters snapped a five-game home winning streak. Right fielder Cord Sandberg’s 13-game hitting streak was also snapped as he went 0 for 3 with a pair of walks. Of Williamsport’s seven losses this year, four have come at the hands of State College.

“We haven’t really played bad (against State College),” Cutters starting pitcher David Whitehead said. “We can’t really be too discouraged with it. It’s a long short season, I guess. We’ll play them again, and we haven’t really played bad. It sucks being 1-4 against them, but we haven’t played bad yet.”

The Cutters were unable to find enough offense, even with a late-game rally, to back the once again strong pitching efforts of Whitehead. The right-hander pitched a career-high seven innings, allowing three runs on seven hits.

Whitehead got ahead of hitters all night, something he wanted to focus on after struggling in his last start against Auburn. He threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the 29 batters he faced.

The efficiency helped Whitehead record four innings of 12 pitches or less, including just 30 total pitches over his final three innings. He was burned on a pair of first-pitch fastballs for doubles in the first inning which led to one Spikes run. A leadoff double on an 0-1 pitch in the fifth inning led to State College’s second run.

“There were a couple of early pitches I missed with, but for the most part it’s part of my game to get ahead with the fastball,” Whitehead said. “I want to let my two-seamer work off the plate. I got caught with it a couple times, but establishing that and building off that is what I do.”

Whitehead is the first Crosscutters pitcher to work seven innings this year, and his 18 2/3 innings pitched lead the New York-Penn League. The Elon College product is coming off Tommy John surgery last April but said he’s starting to get into a rhythm and routine which comes with being a starting pitcher.

He’s been pleased with his three outings early in the season, and Cutters manager Shawn Williams likened his three-run outing last night to his debut when he threw six no-hit innings. Whitehead threw 56 of his 85 pitches (66 percent) for strikes. He had just two strikeouts, but recorded nine ground-ball outs, which is what Whitehead will do when he’s on his game.

“He had the command and he was aggressive,” Williams said. “The first time through (the lineup) he really established the fastball. And he does a really good job of that because he’s able to command it on both sides of the plate. Then after that he mixed in some off-speed and got them off the fastball. I thought he threw really well.”

The Williamsport offense got Whitehead some run support in the bottom of the seventh inning when Grullon (4 for 4) singled up the middle to score Jan Hernandez to cut the Cutters’ deficit to 3-1. After a pop-out, Sandberg and Jiandido Tromp walked back-to-back to load the bases.

Designated hitter Wilson Garcia then hit a roller to third baseman Danny Diekroeger which was bobbled, allowing Grullon to score. But reliever Kyle Grana got Rhys Hoskins to pop out on the eighth pitch of his at-bat to end the threat.

“We haven’t gotten the positive results all the time, but in all 13 games we’ve had really good at-bats,” Williams said. “That’s all we can ask for. Maybe the results aren’t there, but we’ve had good swings and we’re getting deep in counts. We’re swinging the bats pretty well. It seems like every game we’re in there and we have a chance to take the lead or tie the game.”