NILES - The State College Spikes really spiked themselves Monday night at Eastwood Field.
They maintained a commanding two-run lead over the Mahoning Valley Scrappers going into the bottom of the eighth inning but managed to blow the game just in time to lose, 3-2.
State College reliever Jacob Booden took the hill in the eighth and wasn't nearly as intimidating as he looked. The 6-foot-8 reliever's imposing frame looked threatening on the mound, but his stuff didn't scare the Scrappers one bit.
Booden walked Josh McAdams and Juan De La Cruz on eight straight pitches to start the eighth and allowed McAdams to advance to third thanks to a passed ball and wild pitch. After Booden walked De La Cruz, State College manager Oliver Marmol had seen enough and replaced Booden with Kyle Grana. Much to Marmol's chagrin, though, Grana didn't do much better.
Grana immediately gave up the tying run with a balk. McAdams scored and De La Cruz moved into scoring position.
With the bases loaded and one out, second baseman Steven Patterson stepped up to the plate after Grana intentionally walked Greg Allen.
"That was kind of a surprise to me, I thought that they would go after (Allen) because I had a couple good early at-bats in the game," said Patterson, who was 1 for 2 with a single and a walk at that point, "but when they did that, I just changed my mindset and stayed relaxed."
Patterson made Grana pay by driving an RBI single to left that allowed the game-winning run to score.
"They were a little bit wild in that inning," Patterson said, "and once I got ahead in the count, I got my pitch and drove it to the opposite field."
Patterson's hit culminated the gift-wrapped inning in which the Spikes surrendered four walks, two singles, one passed ball, a wild pitch and a balk.
But the victory began on the mound.
Mahoning Valley's pitching staff held the Spikes, a team that leads the league with 39 home runs and ranks fourth in batting average (.261), to just two runs. Starting pitcher Sean Brady set the tone, going five innings and allowing one earned run. He also collected five punchouts.
"When you go out there and only give up two runs, it's a job well-done," Brady said.
Brady struggled with his command in the first couple of innings and catcher Francisco Mejia made several trips to the mound to keep Brady under control.
"We were making sure we were on the same page," Brady said. "You don't want to be on two different pages and throw the wrong pitch."
Brady gave up an RBI double in the second and faced an unearned run in the third, but once Brady settled in, he was dealing.
After Brady exited the game, Luis DeJesus pitched three scoreless innings to pick up the eventual win. Luke Eubank came on in the ninth and earned his first save. He closed the door on the Spikes with authority with three strikeouts.
"We had a good idea of what we wanted to do at the plate, so we were able to use that against them," Brady said.
Mahoning Valley has come a long way in recent weeks. Earlier this month, the Scrappers (19-25) were 8-20 and rode an eight-game losing streak. At the time, any hope for a comeback seemed lost.
"I think we just hit a brick wall, we were tired, we were trying to force things to happen, force ourselves to win instead of just playing the game and let it take care of itself," Patterson said. "Once we started getting on a roll, that took the momentum into what we've been doing lately."
Now the Scrappers are riding high and gaining ground in the division. They've won 11 of 16 and are only three games back in the New York-Penn League wild card chase.
"We have confidence in our team to make a push for the playoffs," Patterson said. "If we keep playing like the way we have, we'll definitely be able to make it in there and surprise some people."
With Monday night's win, the Scrappers are now tied 1-1 in their three-game series with the Spikes. Tonight they have a chance to knock off State College (30-14) and take two out of three from the top team in the league.
"We definitely have confidence going into (tonight)," Patterson said. "With that last inning, I feel like they lost a little bit of their confidence and gave us the momentum, so I think we're going to have a good chance taking the series from them."
Mahoning Valley settles the rubber match at 7 p.m. tonight at Eastwood Field.