Cutters open with a victory

STATE COLLEGE — The sound the baseball made when it hit Greg Pickett’s bat Monday night was explosive. It was the kind of sound which demanded the attention of every person inside Medlar Field at Lubrano Park.

The Williamsport Crosscutters first baseman had ambushed a first-pitch fastball and didn’t miss it. State College center fielder Mick Fennell took a few courtesy steps toward right-center field. Right fielder Ricardo Bautista barely did that. The only question as the baseball hurtled through the cool night air was just how far it would go.

The answer was 404 feet, plenty long enough for a two-run home run. It was the cap to a three-run, two-out barrage in the third inning which led the Cutters to a 9-2 opening-night win over the Spikes. Seven Wil­liams­port players recorded a hit Monday, six drove in a run, Pickett and Cole Stobbe homered, and Kyle Young pitched five innings of shutout baseball as the Cutters won on Opening Day for the third consecutive season.

“The swing didn’t feel that great,” Pickett said of his home run. “But I got the barrel on it, and that’s all you really need to do.”

That home run off State College starter Sam Tewes finally made pro baseball real for Pickett. The former eighth-round draft pick missed the entire 2016 season with an injury. He hadn’t hit a home run in a game which counted in the standings since Aug. 25, 2015.

His two-run blast helped him finally feel like his career has begun. Games in the Gulf Coast League are afternoon affairs with hardly any fans. Monday night he had two hits and drove in three runs in front of more than 4,000 fans. The TrackMan radar technology inside the stadium measured his home run at 404 feet with an exit velocity of 93.5 mph.

“I’m not a guy who likes to take the first pitch no matter what. If it’s there, I’m going to swing at it and try to do some damage if I can,” Pickett said. “I was looking for a fastball and trying to put good wood on it and he threw it right down the middle. So I got it.”

“Some people have that (easy power) and some people don’t,” Cutters manager Pat Borders said. “They connect to their body well and when they make contact with the bat, it goes. He’s one of those guys.”

The three-run third inning combined with Stobbe’s 428-foot solo home run to lead off the second inning allowed Young to attack the State College lineup without fear. The 7-foot tall left-hander was in cruise control over his five innings, throwing more than 15 pitches in an inning just once.

Young and catcher Rodolfo Duran hit a groove following over Young’s final four innings which had the Spikes unsure what was coming next. Young blitzed the Spikes early with his fastball, facing just one over the minimum through three innings. Then he got heavy with his breaking ball and change-up.

State College didn’t seem to pick up the breaking ball well out of Young’s hand, never really getting a confident swing against the pitch if they could even get the bat off their shoulder. And when Young noticed they were beginning to attack the fastball, he went to the change-up to get hitters out front.

It led to five brilliant innings throwing 43 of his 69 pitches (62 percent) for strikes, allowing just two hits and striking out six. The five innings and six strikeouts were each career highs since he was drafted out of St. Dominic High School on Long Island in the 22nd round last year.

“For the most part, I was just trying to change speeds on them,” Young said. “My main goal was to change speeds and don’t let people attack the fastball because that’s when I get into trouble. So I was just making sure I’m flipping over the curveball here and there and go to the change-up if they’re getting too anxious.”

“What stood out to me for him was the calm demeanor in front of a big crowd for the first game,” Borders said. “You think he’d have some jitters and he didn’t. He was very composed for a kid his age.”

And behind that strong pitching, the Cutters’ offense kept tacking on runs. When State College closed to within 5-2 on a Bautista two-run homer in the seventh inning, Williamsport responded with four runs in the eighth.

Jesus Henriquez hit a two-run double on the first pitch from reliever Spencer Trayner in the top of the eighth inning. Duran followed with a sacrifice fly to deep center, and Juan Luis dropped a two-out RBI single in front of left fielder Bryce Denton.

“I love the way our team hits. They have a lot of power,” Young said. “I know that at any time one of them can strike really, really quickly.”

“I think we got some pop in this lineup,” Pickett said. “I think we can definitely do some damage. I mean that home run Stobbe hit, that was a bomb.”