Trey Nielsen's season began with a hitless outing. On Sunday, it almost ended that way.
The Cardinals prospect tossed six one-hit innings as State College blanked Tri-City, 2-0, in the opener of the best-of-3 New York-Penn League Championship Series.
"I felt good. I haven't pitched against this team, so my biggest focus was on getting ahead early and going from there," Nielsen said. "To be honest, I didn't have my secondary stuff, but I had my fastball going."
Nielsen (1-0) issued two walks in the third but was otherwise perfect over the first five frames. Jason Martin led off the sixth with a single for the ValleyCats' first hit.
"It's kind of, you don't really think about it, you just know you have your stuff. It wasn't on my mind at all," the 23-year-old right-hander said of the no-hit bid. "After [Martin's hit], I turned and saw that they had one hit on me and I knew I had to bear down and get some outs. I knew we had to get the zero."
Nielsen retired the next three ValleyCats to finish the longest start of his brief professional career.
"It was awesome. It was a lot of fun for me," he said. "I haven't gone six innings in about three years, it was a huge step for me. It was also huge for our team to have a stocked bullpen the next few games."
Nielsen was an infielder for most of his career at the University of Utah, but he pitched six innings over four games in his final season before the Cardinals selected him in the 30th round of the 2013 Draft. His pro debut was delayed by Tommy John surgery, but he spun two hitless frames in his first Spikes appearance, then tossed four no-hit innings in his first start on July 16.
"It's been an interesting journey, to say the least. And to just be out there in Game 1 of the Championship Series with the guys and win it is great," Nielsen said. "It was a lot of fun."
Brandon Lee, Josh Lucas and Kyle Grana each pitched an inning, with Grana working around a walk in the ninth to finish off the two-hitter and record his second postseason save.
Luis Cruz put the Spikes on the board with an RBI triple in the second and Alex De Leon provided insurance with a run-scoring double in the sixth.
Heading into Game 2 on Monday at Tri-City, Nielsen said it's business as usual in the State College clubhouse. And keeping with a winning routine, the Spikes will wear their red jerseys.
"Call it baseball superstition. If we keep winning, it's like, if it ain't broke, don't fix it," Nielsen explained. "We know what we have to do, we know we have a job at hand. It's pretty loose. We have a pretty loose team."
ValleyCats starter Brandon McNitt (0-1) took the loss after giving up a run on two hits over five innings. He walked one batter and struck out one.