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Spikes win strike-one battle, rout Cutters

Cutters Nolan Wosman tags out Marques Page of State College Spikes for the first out in a double play turned by Wosman at Bowman Field, June 18, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

Billy Horton walked into the Williamsport Crosscutters’ clubhouse following Friday’s 12-2 loss to State College and asked his players for one one to sum up what happened.

In unison, the 30 sets of eyeballs staring back at him chirped, “Next.”

It’s the motto Horton has brought to the Crosscutters in his first year as the team’s manager. It deals with every aspect of a baseball season: moving from pitch to pitch, at-bat to at-bat, inning to inning and game to game without looking back.

There wasn’t much reason to feel positive following Friday night’s game at Bowman Field. Rob Marinec drove in a run in his return from concussion protocol. Freddie Matos added another RBI hit in the ninth inning. But this was a game State College was in control of from the time Nathan Church hit a two-out solo home run in the first inning.

State College took advantage of nine walks and two hit batters by Williamsport pitching, and the Spikes’ pitching staff struck out 16 Cutters and scattered four total hits.

Cutters pitcher Zach Klapak throws against the State College Spikes at Bowman Field, June 18, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

So when Horton asked his team about a word to sum up the night, the answer he got was music to his ears.

“It wasn’t our night,” Horton said. “In the NFL this might stink because you have six days to think about it and prepare. But in the right mindset, even in this situation, you move on.”

There was no reason to dwell on Friday’s loss. It was among the worst the Cutters have taken in this first month of the MLB Draft League season. It came about in part because Williamsport’s pitching staff struggled to get ahead of the Spikes’ hitters. Five combined pitchers – Nick Cosentino, Zach Klapak, Dominic Hambley, Francisco Mateo and Hunter Caudelle – threw first-pitch strikes to just 19 of the 45 hitters they faces (42.2%).

If the nine walks issued by those five pitchers, eight of them came in plate appearances where they fell behind in the count, 1-0. Half of the State College’s eight hits came in plate appearances where they were ahead in the count, 1-0, including Church’s home run in the first inning.

“Now the count is in their favor. Now they can get more aggressive,” Horton said. “Some hitters are comfortable hitting with two strikes, but I don’t know how many at this level are comfortable and confident. When you’re ahead (as a hitter), you feel more aggressive and more confident. (State College) won the strike-one battle tonight.”

Cutters Chaz Salter can't make the tag at second base as Tyler Heckert is safe on the steal at Bowman Field, June 18, 2021. DAVE KENNEDY/Sun-Gazette

But it wasn’t just losing the strike-one battle defensively which spelled doom for the Cutters. They also lost the battle on offense. Four State College pitchers – Richie Hoeltz, Andrew Moore, Drew Garrett and Mason Mellott – threw first-pitch strikes to 25 of the 35 hitters they faced (71.4%).

It put Williamsport’s offense on the defensive. In his five innings, Hoeltz ran 0-2 counts to nine of the 18 hitters he faced. Seven of those at-bats ended in strikeouts. In all, Hoeltz struck out nine, allowing just two hits to pick up the victory. Moore followed with four strikeouts in two innings, and Garrett struck out the only three batters he faced.

The State College pitching dominance came as the Spikes’ offense continually pushed their lead further and further toward blowout territory. Damiano Palmegiani led off the second inning with a solo home run. The Spikes added three more runs in that inning thanks to two hits, two walks and a hit batter.

State College scored two more in the fifth when Palmegiani hit a two-out, two-run single to push the lead to 7-0. Kenny Piper and Matthew Ellis each drove in a run in a four-run sixth inning. At that point, Horton’s message to the Cutters was about making sure they continued to put together good at-bats and not give up their approach by swinging for the fences.

“Every at-bat matters. Every pitch matters,” Horton said. “This is how you become a professional baseball player. Go out there with intent and whatever happens, happens. You can’t hit 10-run homers, but these at-bats still matter.”

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