1st-inning mishap dooms Cutters

STATE COLLEGE — Johan Rojas yelled loudly three times to let the fielders around him know he had the fly ball dropping rapidly in the Medlar Field at Lubrano Park outfield.

But as the Williamsport center fielder came charging toward the infield, the ball fell a few feet behind him. What should have been an inning-ending out, turned into an inning-extending mistake Monday night. Two batters later State College’s Martin Figueroa roped a three-run triple off the top of the 18-foot high right-field wall and the Crosscutters never recovered.

The Spikes scored six of their nine runs with two outs, and Andrew Warner hit a three-run home run in a 9-3 win over Williamsport. State College won for the third time in its last four games to be move back above .500 at 19-18.

Williamsport lost despite Rojas hitting his first home run since joining the Cutters and Corbin Williams stealing his league-leading 20th base.

“As long as we play hard and play the game the right way, the ‘W’ is going to come,” State College manager Jose Leon said. “If we catch the ball and hit it when you have opportunities, I think we’re going to be OK.”

State College did exactly those two things to take the rubber match of the three-game series with Williamsport. Spikes outfielders Terry Fuller, Warner and Stanley Espinal ran down more than a handful of well-struck baseballs in the gaps and down the line. Williamsport’s Jake Holmes finished 0 for 4 despite barreling the ball in three at-bats right at defenders. Hunter Hearn appeared to have an RBI hit in the first inning last night before Espinal tracked it down in the corner to help strand a runner on second base.

And then, when the offense was given an opportunity to score, the Spikes didn’t miss. When the fly ball dropped behind Rojas in center field with two outs and a runner on first against Cutters starter Carlos Francisco, Matt Duce worked a walk before Figueroa jumped all over a 1-0 pitch and hit it a 110 mph bullet off the right-field wall for his second triple of the season. It easily scored all three runners.

“That was a big key, a bit part of the game,” Leon said. “I tell those guys all the time to run hard and that was a big difference (Monday). When the fly ball drops, I’m thinking we have a chance to score a few runs and it happened.”

That three-run first inning erased the brief lead Williamsport built when Williams created a run with his legs in the first inning by picking up a bunt single and then stealing second base. His 20th steal of the year puts him just 12 behind Cesar Hernandez’s single-season franchise record of 32, set in 2010. There are still 40 games left in the season.

Williams scored two batters later on Kendall Simmons’ single to center.

“When he gets on base, we know he’s always getting to second, if not third, and then he’s going to score,” Cutters pitcher Tom Sutera said. “We know if he’s on second, a single is going to bring him in.”

Warner added to the State College lead when he jumped all over an 0-2 offering from Francisco with two outs in the second inning and drove it 405 feet over the left-field wall for a three-run home run. It was the sixth home run of the season for Warner, which is one being Mahoning Valley’s George Valera and Staten Island’s Ezequiel Duran for the New York-Penn League lead.

“Warner is a pretty strong kid, and every time he hits the ball out front, he’s going to hit the ball out of the park,” Leon said. “I like his approach, too. He’s been working hard the last two weeks.”

Sutera stopped the bleeding for Williamsport, pitching four innings of one-hit, shutout relief. He struck out three and didn’t walk a batter.

It was the second consecutive scoreless outing for Sutera. He’s allowed just one run in his last three appearances since surrendering five runs in 2 1/3 innings against Mahoning Valley on July 2. In his last three appearances, Sutera has allowed one run and six hits over 11 1/3 innings, striking out 14 and walking just one.

“Me and (pitching coach Hector Berrios) have been working a lot and fixed some stuff mechanically which has helped with my command,” Sutera said. “So my last two outings felt really good. I was able to pinpoint my fastball and keep them off it with some off-speed stuff.”