Cutters bullpen is flawless in road win

STATE COLLEGE — Williamsport was in trouble. It had just allowed four runs in a matter of only three pitches. It’s two-run lead was obliterated. And starting pitcher Carlos Francisco was leaving the game with nobody out in the third inning because of an issue on his pitching hand.

It looked like it was going to be a long night for the Crosscutters at Medlar Field at Lubrano Park. Then Michael Gomez put out the fire retiring all six batters he faced. Tom Sutera struck out six of the 10 batters he faced. Anton Kuznetsov stranded two in scoring position with a pair of strikeouts. And Blake Bennett had a clean ninth inning.

The Crosscutters’ bullpen was flawless Saturday night at State College. They had to be. It allowed the offense to overcome the devastating four-run third inning and Williamsport posted its first win of the season, 5-4, with a two-run, ninth-inning rally. The Cutters avoided their first 0-2 start since 2014 when Christian Valerio drove in Nick Matera with a sacrifice fly and Seth Lancaster scored on a wild pitch in the top of the ninth to erase a one-run deficit.

“The first win is always good to get,” said Lancaster, who had his first three-hit game as a professional. “You always want to start the season with a win, but we couldn’t. We made the adjustments we needed to make and won the game.”

The biggest adjustment was playing a clean game defensively. One night after making seven errors in a one-run loss, Williamsport had a clean defensive game last night. It was a strong defensive effort which wasn’t put to the test much as the pitching staff recorded 16 strikeouts, 14 of which came from the bullpen.

It was the kind of win which was able to wipe away the sour feelings from an Opening Day loss in Williamsport where the Cutters just couldn’t seem to get out of their own way. In fact, they were able to capitalize on a trio of State College errors in the fateful ninth inning to turn what looked for better than half the game like it was going to be a loss, into its first win of the season.

Nick Matera reached on a throwing error by Edwin Figuera to lead off the ninth. Lancaster shot a single to right field for his third hit and Matera went first-to-third. Valerio hit just his third career sacrifice fly two pitches later to tie the game.

When Figuera missed fielding a ground ball between short and third, it set up the Cutters with runners on the corners. Then a pitch bounded off Carlos Soto’s glove toward the third-base dugout allowing Lancaster to score.

It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest rally in baseball history. But it surely was effective. It was the first time since Aug. 18 last year the Cutters rallied from a deficit in the ninth inning to win.

“We had a lot of mistakes (Friday), so seeing the tables turn was a good thing to see,” Lancaster said. “Matera had good swings all night. It was the same thing with his last one and things started to go for us from there.”

The offense was given the chance to rally by a bullpen which rallied behind Francisco, who left in the third inning with the trainer after giving up a two-run double to the Spikes’ Andrew Warner. Gomez stopped the bleeding in the third with a pair of strikeouts and a pop-up to first. He added two more strikeouts in the fourth.

Sutera made his Crosscutter debut with six strikeouts in three innings, mixing in a split-finger fastball with his fastball and curveball. His only blemish was an infield single to lead off the seventh inning by Martin Figueroa.

Kuznetsov found himself in a little trouble after allowing back-to-back singles to start the eighth inning. But he recorded a pair of strikeouts before Valerio snagged a line drive at third to end the threat.

In all, the Williamsport bullpen pitched seven innings allowing just three hits and no walks, striking out 14.

“Gomez was huge. I think it really could have gotten away from us there,” Sutera said. “Four runs already in, no outs, man on second. They can just pile on. That’s how it happens in baseball. It happens really quick. But he got the first guy and that gives you the confidence to get through it.”