By Will Bashur in Wichita. Photo by Vic Neumann
First of all, don’t worry: The Foresters are not done. Santa Barbara plays on Thursday in the quarterfinals. But on Tuesday, on the way there, the Foresters finally ran out of offense, as they were held scoreless by a sharp Seattle Studs pitching staff. After scoring a combined 38 runs in their past two NBC matchups, the ’Sters came up empty. Seattle needed to beat the ’Sters to stave off elimination, and they did so by bringing out their best arms, holding the Foresters to just five hits on the night.
Studs starter Alan Vasquez was dealing from the start, as he didn’t allow a hit until the third. Vasquez mixed his pitches well and used varying velocities to keep the Foresters guessing. The Pierce Community College standout struck out six ’Sters over six shutout innings, and walked just one.
Brett Standlee started for Santa Barbara and also threw some of his best stuff, as he surrendered just one run on four hits and struck out two over three innings. Standlee was tagged with his only run in the second, when Seattle catcher Garrett Breda hit a double deep into the left-center gap to score Brennan Hancock.
After Standlee threw his final inning, the Foresters offense looked to strike in the bottom of the third. Tyler Hardman started the third with a single to right field, and John Jensen followed by reaching on a hit by pitch. Following a pop up and a fielder’s choice, Luke Ritter drew a walk to load the bases with two outs. Slugger Brandon Lewis, who represented the Foresters in the home run derby, stepped into the box in a key scoring opportunity. Unfortunately Lewis couldn’t cash in, and Vasquez pitched his way around trouble to strand three Foresters runners.
Kamron Fields entered in the fourth to relieve Standlee, and held the Studs in check with a blazing fastball. Fields pumped in heaters ranging from 90-94 miles per hour, and blew pitch after pitch past the Seattle bats. The Texas Longhorn delivered one of his better performances on the summer, striking out three Studs while giving up just one hit and one walk over two scoreless innings.
Dane Acker followed Fields as he came into the ballgame in the sixth, and immediately threw a scoreless inning.
The seventh inning was not nearly as kind to Acker. Breda started the inning with a sharp single, and Jacob Hirsh followed with what was designed to be a sacrifice bunt. Hirsh laid the bunt down in front of the mound, setting up a routing play for Acker. But Acker bobbled the ball, allowing Hirsh to reach first safely and placing the momentum squarely in the Seattle’s dugout. Acker then threw a wild pitch, moving the runners to second and third. Studs center fielder Connor Savage followed with a ground ball to Utah Jones, who was able to throw a dart to catcher Slade Heggen to prevent a run from scoring.
That was the only run that didn’t score in the seventh, as the Studs went on to score three runs off a hit batter, two walks, and two hits. Coach Pintard was forced to use three more pitchers in the inning—Bailey Reid, Elliott Anderson, and Nico O’Donnell—to escape the nightmarish frame. After seven, the Studs had jumped to a 5-0 advantage.
Santa Barbara mounted a rally in the eighth when they loaded the bases for the second time in the game, but they again couldn’t deliver. Jones was robbed of a two-out hit when a sinking line drive was speared by the diving left fielder Hirsh. The raucous Seattle crowd, with kazoos and water bottles in hand, erupted with joy as Hirsh shot his glove up in the air triumphantly to affirm his web gem catch.
The Foresters’ comeback hopes were shattered in the ninth by Studs closer Anthony Brady, who struck out Hardman and Patrick Mathis before getting Logan Allen to ground out to end the game.
Santa Barbara’s hopes of an NBC World Series title are still very much intact, as they won Pool A due to a run differential tiebreaker. As noted, The Foresters will play in the quarterfinals on Thursday. The opponent and start time of the game will be released in the coming days. As always, be sure to tune into 1290 AM for full coverage of the game.