Another tight pitcher’s duel spilled over into extra innings Friday night as it took 11 innings for the Aberdeen IronBirds to beat the State College Spikes 3-2 in yet another thriller in front of a record 6,897 at Ripken Stadium. With Cal Ripken, Jr. and Orioles Director of Scouting Joe Jordan in attendance, catcher Austin Rauch’s single to deep left-center field was the difference maker, scoring pinch-runner Zach Moore from third base on the night of the opening ceremonies of the Cal Ripken World Series.
With the game tied 2-2 after nine innings, both teams looked for the opportunity to take the game. In the 10th inning, both teams sent three batters to the plate, but in the 11th, State College had an opportunity to take the lead against reliever Jesse Rasner. Third baseman Andy Vasquez led off the inning with a single to right and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by centerfielder Mel Rojas, Jr. But Rasner (1-0, 0.00) buckled down and struck out the next two batters to end the threat.
That was before Aberdeen’s chance to strike in the bottom of the 11th. First baseman David Anderson doubled into the left field corner off State College’s Justin Ennis (2-1, 6.00) to lead off the inning. Anderson was replaced at second by Moore who advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Austin Knight. Then Rauch came and sent the IronBirds on the way to victory.
“I was just looking for something to drive and got 2-0, and got a fastball and squared it up,” Rauch said.
“It just worked out. It all fell into place,” manager Gary Kendall said.
State College had a chance to break the game open early off Aberdeen starter Tyler Sexton in the second inning, but Sexton kept the Spikes in check, only allowing one run. The lefthander yielded three straight singles before second baseman Kelson Brown’s sacrifice fly to right field scored designated hitter Matt Curry and gave State College a 1-0 lead. Then, Sexton successfully picked first baseman Gerlis Rodriguez off first base and then catcher Miguel Mendez grounded out to third to end the inning, with State College only scoring one run.
Aberdeen got it right back in the bottom of the inning as designated hitter Joel Polanco drove a Zach Fuesser offering deep to left field off the roof of the visitor’s clubhouse to tie the game 1-1.
“Joel is a fastball hitter,” Kendall said. “He’s all about hitting the fastball. They threw it inside to him and he’s going to slug it.”
Both Sexton and Fuesser cruised until the bottom of the fifth when Fuesser ran into trouble and eventually had his night ended. After getting the first two outs of the inning, Fuesser issued walks to centerfielder Trent Mummey and second baseman Sammie Starr. At this point, Fuesser was pulled for reliever Mitch Fienemann. Fienemann hit leftfielder Tyler Stampone, currently rehabbing from Delmarva, to load the bases, but got third baseman Adam Gaylord to strikeout swinging on a pitch in the dirt to end the threat.
For the night, Fuesser pitched 4.2 innings and gave up only one run on three hits. He walked four and struck out five.
Fienemann could not hold the tie for long. In the bottom of the sixth, Anderson led off with a long double to left field. Fienemann got the next two batters out, but rightfielder Blair Dunlap came through for the IronBirds. Dunlap lifted a Fienemann offering high and deep to left field. Anderson chugged around from second to score and Dunlap ended up on second with a double of his own and a 2-1 lead for Aberdeen.
Sexton had his best start of the year, pitching six innings of one-run ball. Over the six innings he allowed only four hits while walking only one and striking out six. He exited in position to earn his second win of the year.
“[My changeup] was good,” he said. “It made my fastball better. I was able to slow the hitters down then speed them back up with my fastball. My changeup was good which made my fastball better.”
“He’s got great stuff,” Rauch said. “I talked to him before the game and told him to relax and trust his stuff.”
“He didn’t nibble,” Kendall said. “He pitched aggressive. I’m not saying he has power stuff, but he has a good feel to pitch.”
Going into the game, the struggling Sexton said that his mindset was “just to relax and let myself trust my stuff. Let my stuff work. Trust that it’s going to do what it’s supposed to do. I had a lot of confidence tonight, just a lot of trust in what Rauch was calling and that the ball was going to do what I needed it to do to get outs,” he said.
However, reliever Jason Gurka could not hold the lead for Sexton. State College leftfielder Adalberto Santos led off the inning with a double to right field. Santos advanced to third on a wild pitch as Gurka got the next two batters, but first Rodriguez came through for the Spikes, singling to right to score Santos and tie the game 2-2.
State College put the go-ahead run on third base in the top of the eighth against Gurka. Mendez singled over Anderson’s head into right field. Then third baseman Andy Vasquez dropped a sacrifice bunt to advance Mendez to second before Mendez went to third on a groundout by centerfielder Mel Rojas, Jr. Then Gurka was lifted for T.R. Keating. Against Keating, shortstop Gift Ngoepe failed to lay down a squeeze bunt and the IronBirds escaped with the score still tied 2-2.
Aberdeen continues its three-game set with State College on Saturday night with Tim Adleman (2-2, 3.35) pitching against Tyler Waldron (2-5, 3.52). In his last start, Adleman had the shortest outing of his pro career, giving up six runs on six hits over three innings at Mahoning Valley. In his last home start, Adleman pitched six perfect and seven no-hit innings against Staten Island en route to a victory. Adleman’s performance this year has earned him a spot on the New York-Penn League All-Star team. In his last start for State College, Waldron took the loss against Tri-City, by giving up three runs on three hits over four innings. First pitch is scheduled for 7:05 p.m. at Ripken Stadium.