With Game 1 of the New York-Penn League Championship Series tied in the top of the 11th inning, State College manager Oliver Marmol planned to be aggressive on the basepaths. As Luis Perez neared third base, that decision proved critical.
Marmol, serving as the Spikes' third-base coach, waved Perez home with the go-ahead run to help the Cardinals' short-season affiliate defeat the Tri-City ValleyCats, 2-1, on Tuesday night.
"The way this game was going, the offense struggling, I was gonna take my chance," Marmol said. "I had no hesitation."
Perez led off the 11th with a single and crossed the plate on a three-base error by ValleyCats pitcher Edison Frias. Jimmy Bosco reached on a force attempt on Frias' throwing mistake with Perez racing around the bases in the process.
"There was starting to get some dew on the ground," ValleyCats catcher Brett Booth said. "[Frias] made a good play getting there. It just slipped."
State College mustered only three hits in the contest, but now stand one win away from the championship.
"That's the key. Defense and pitching wins ballgames," Marmol said. "The team that plays the best defense and has the best pitching is gonna win."
Both teams were locked horns in a pitchers' duel for most of the game. Spikes starter Arturo Reyes allowed one unearned run over six innings while ValleyCats counterpart Evan Grills surrendered one run on two hits over eight frames.
"Reyes set the tone with the solid outing for us," Marmol said. "He's a very poised and composed kid. He doesn't panic under pressure. He keeps it under control."
The manager knew Grills, who went 7-1 during the regular season, would pose a challenge to his team.
"Our approach was to just grind it out," Marmol said. "We knew it was going to be a tough one."
Tri-City struck first on Brian Holberton's second-inning sacrifice fly, but State College tied the game on Mason Katz's solo home run in the fifth.
"When he tied it up, momentum changed a little bit on our end," Marmol said.
After the Spikes went ahead in the top of the 11th, the ValleyCats nearly tied the game in the bottom of the frame. Ronnie Mitchell hit a long fly ball to right field that Jimmy Bosco tracked down for the second out of the inning.
"I thought it was gone, to be honest with you. You definitely freeze for a second," Marmol said. "Once I saw Jimmy kinda feel for the wall, I knew he had a handle. It was a good two seconds where my heart stopped."
Jacob Booden, who tossed two hitless innings in relief, fanned Brett Booth looking to end the game.
Marmol expects another pitchers' duel when the series returns to Medlar Field in State College for Game 2 on Wednesday.
"Key situational hitting," the skipper said of what will be needed in their next meeting. "I believe both teams are going to pitch well. That's gonna be the key."