NILES - When the Mahoning Valley Scrappers faced the State College Spikes in midst of the their franchise record 12-game losing streak two weeks ago, the pitching staff had one of their worst series statistically.
The Spikes put 28 runs across the plate and recorded 41 hits on July 7 through 9, the most allowed all season by the Scrappers.
It was a complete reversal between the teams this week, and the Scrappers capped off a sweep with a 3-1 win over the Spikes at Eastwood Field on Thursday night. In the three-game series, Mahoning Valley (15-23) held State College (18-18) to two runs.
Tribune Chronicle / Dave Dermer
Mahoning Valley Scrappers catcher Martin Cervenka, left, tags out State College’s Michael Schulze, who was attempting to score while a runner stole second base during the top of the seventh inning. The Scrappers won their fifth straight game, 3-1.
The victory was the fifth straight for the Scrappers.
"We kind of put them in more hitting circumstances there in State College, fell behind, walked some guys and got knocked around a little bit," pitching coach Scott Erickson said. "So, we wanted to make sure to come out today and really attack the zone and try to throw a lot of strikes early in the game.
"We've seen the guys a few times now. This is like the seventh or eighth game we've played against them, so you can form a pretty good idea of how to attack them as a pitcher."
On Thursday, three pitchers (Cole Sulser, Ben Heller and Breily Puerta) combined to amass 11 strikeouts, while the Spikes rarely threatened to put runs across the plate, especially early.
The starter, Sulser, gave up just one hit to State College shortstop Michael Schulze in the third inning, and with the help of Martin Cervenka gunning him down while trying to steal second, he faced just nine batters in three innings of work.
This allowed Mahoning Valley to jump out to a 3-0 lead, as shortstop Juan Herrera blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the third that was a line drive straight into the Scrappers bullpen in right field.
That lead held until the eighth inning, when State College looked like it had figured out reliever Puerta. David Washington led off with a double, and four batters later, Luis Perez drove him in with a two-out single on a 1-2 count into right field, which also left runners on the corners.
Puerta managed to get out of that jam, though, with help from his defense. Cervenka threw to second as Perez attempted to steal. The runner on third, Michael Schulze, tried to go home once the throw left, but Herrera cut off Cervenka's throw to second well before the bag and sent the ball back to Cervenka to tag Schulze out.
Along with the boost the pitchers gave their defense, the position players found it easier to relax at the plate, left fielder Josh McAdams said. He, and the rest of the Mahoning Valley squad, didn't overlook the success the pitching staff had.
"Our pitchers this series definitely came out and had the mindset of we're going to attack the zone early, and we're going to battle and we're going to go after them with all they had," McAdams said. "They're going to be the ones in control and not let the hitters be the ones who control it.
"That's what they took to the mound, and they gave it to them."
Whether the bad outings against the Spikes last time around motivated the pitching staff or not, Erickson said they didn't do too much differently from that point. Still, he knows that without that one outlier of a series, the team's ERA could be one of the best in the New York-Penn League.
"We've been throwing the ball very well all year," Erickson said. "You take away those 20-plus runs in that one series, and our ERA would be a lot better as a team. That was almost a whole run per game."
RIDING A HIGH: The atmosphere surrounding the team has done a 180-degree turn thanks to the New York-Penn League's longest current winning streak.
The Scrappers have won five games in a row and eight of their last 10 in the league. This seems to have mitigated the effects of the team's 12-game losing streak that lasted from July 3 to July 14.
Pitching coach Scott Erickson said that while he can't speak for the entire team, winning has a universal effect no matter the player.
"Winning always makes everybody a little bit happier," Erickson said. "The good things about that, they weren't too down during the losing streak because guys were still throwing the ball pretty well. We were losing some pretty low-scoring games."
Left fielder Josh McAdams credited a lot of the team's perseverance through the longest losing streak in franchise history to coach Ted Kubiak, who tried to keep the players from getting down too much on themselves.
"We just have a positive attitude," McAdams said. "(Coach Kubiak) has really been emphasizing that because things haven't been going our way, doesn't mean necessarily we're doing something wrong. He kept on encouraging us throughout and competing every day."
WINNING SERIES: With the team's doubleheader sweep of State College at Eastwood Field on Wednesday, Mahoning Valley collected a third consecutive series win, after taking two wins against both Staten Island and Brooklyn.
This marked the first time in almost two years that the Scrappers accomplished the feat. From July 24 to Aug. 4, 2011, Mahoning Valley got series wins over Lowell, Aberdeen and Staten Island.
HITTING BOMBS: In the past 11 games, the Scrappers have hit seven home runs to help power the team to an 8-3 record.
Shortstop Juan Herrera added the latest home run in the third inning of Mahoning Valley's 3-1 win over the State College Spikes. His two-run shot was his first of the season.