State College's Andrew Pierce picked a good time to match a career high in strikeouts while turning in his longest professional start.
"I would say this was my best one," said the 22-year-old-right-hander. "Tonight, with the series on the line and all the pressure, this was my best."
The Cardinals prospect struck out seven without walking a batter while scattering four hits over seven innings Sunday in short-season State College's 6-0 win over Jamestown in Game 3 of the New York-Penn League Semifinals. The victory netted the Spikes their first trip to the Championship Series, which will start Tuesday at Tri-City.
"This kid did an unbelievable job. He wanted the ball," manager Oliver Marmol said of his starter. "When we told him he was going to start Game 3, he was very excited. He gave us seven strong innings and kept the ball down, got a lot of ground balls."
State College dropped Game 1 of the best-of-3 series on the road, but picked up a 12-4 win Saturday at home, where the team went 30-8 in the regular season.
"We've had a very good home record. Our guys felt comfortable coming home after that first game," said Marmol. "We knew we were not going to lose in front of these home fans who've supported us all year."
"I know losing [at Jamestown] gave them momentum, but we knew we're good at home," added Pierce. "Yesterday was a big win, and it helped us to come back out and win tonight."
The eighth-round pick from this year's Draft already had a record of success against the Jammers, throwing 18 scoreless frames against them over the course of the season.
"Me throwing against them worked out on our side -- they don't really hit offspeed pitches that well," he said. "They have a lot of lefties and my changeup and slider worked really well."
Pierce, who'd previously fanned seven in a July 24 relief appearance, worked around a leadoff single in the second. After giving up back-to-back singles to start the fourth, he struck out the next batter and got a double-play ball to end the inning.
"That was huge. It kept my pitch count down and I was able to go deeper into the game because of it," said Pierce. He kept a cool head with runners on. "I'm a more laid-back guy. I don't let that get in the way or bother me. Me being laid-back is what helped me the most."
After that, no Jammers hitter reached second base. Pierce induced another double play in the fifth and was perfect in the sixth and seventh, striking out three in that span.
"I had the fastball working good, which enabled us to throw a lot of offspeed stuff," the University of Southern Mississippi product said.
Mitch Harris completed the shutout with a pair of hitless innings. After playing the second-longest nine-inning game in Medlar Field at 3:40, the Spikes took 2:08 to wrap up the series Sunday.
State College's David Washington hit a two-run homer in the first, and he singled in another run in the bottom of the eighth.
"Always when your team scores early, it helps to set the bar," Pierce said. "You can go back out there and relax on the mound. I got a lead and I was able to pitch to that lead."
Marmol said the Spikes will be fully prepared for their date with the ValleyCats.
"We're going to give these guys tomorrow off and let them relax a little bit," he said. "They'll be ready Tuesday. They know what's at stake."