By Jim Buckley (in SB): How appropriate that the best and biggest game of the season continued the Foresters’ late-season winning streak with victory number . . . 19 in a row.
In a close-fought battle, the Foresters beat the Hays Larks 7-5 on Monday evening to earn a spot in the NBC World Series semifinal on Thursday against Lonestar Baseball from Austin, Texas. The Foresters bullpen had just what Nick “The Doctor” Proctor ordered, as the ’Sters closer put together a solid six-out save to wrap up a great game for the Santa Barbara bullpen.
The game was crucial for both teams, as the winner earned that semifinal spot, while the loser headed to what could turn into three more games to reach the final. The back-and-forth, action-packed game proved equal to the stakes. In the end, the Foresters scored what proved to be the winning run in the sixth inning during the unlikeliest of events—a triple play.
Of special note was the play of catcher Dylan Leach (pictured), forced to come off the bench after starting catcher Jared Thomas was injured. Leach was in the thick of the action at bat, with three hits and two runs scored, while masterfully handling the Foresters’ pitching staff through some very tense innings.
Here’s how it all went down: The Larks started an unfortunate trend by scoring a single run in the first, a feat they repeated for four more innings. Their first run came after a single and stolen base were followed by a double and the Foresters trailed for the first time in the tournament.
But that only lasted a moment, thanks to a first-inning two-out double by Steven Zobac that was followed by a Tanner O’Tremba single to tie the game.
Hays struck back in the second. After a walk, a steal attempt was successful and when the throw went into center, the runner was on third. A groundout to short made it 2-1. Hays added to their lead in the third after a single to centerfield eluded Josh Stinson to put runners on second and third, and chased starter Peyton Cole. Scott Ellis came in and gave up a base hit to make it 3-1. Third baseman Dylan Campbell then made a pair of key plays. First, he threw home to nab one runner from scoring. Then two pitches later, he started a beautiful 5-4-3 double play to get the Foresters out of the inning.
Santa Barbara chipped away by scoring in the bottom of the third. Stinson reached on an infield hit and moved around the bases thanks to his teammates, with the RBI going to Campbell on a groundout. In the fourth, the third baseman made another great play on a barehanded pickup, but then the Larks made it 4-2 on a home run by Zach Henry.
The game turned in the bottom of the fourth when the Foresters scored three runs. O’Tremba led off with his second hit. DH Jamey Smart walked and a groundout moved the runners up. Leach then dropped a perfect safety squeeze to send O’Tremba sliding across the plate to make it 4-3. Though starting pitcher Hunter Parker seemed injured on the play, he stayed in and hit Seth Stephenson to load the bases. That was it for Parker, and Josh Stinson smacked the first pitch from the reliever into center and the game was tied 4-4. Andrew Kachel sent a long sac fly to right to send Leach home from third and give the Foresters their first lead of the game at 5-4.
The lead lasted exactly one pitch, as Courtland Lawson hit a homer to left field and just like that, it was 5-5.
Then the Foresters got just what they needed in a shutdown sixth inning with three strikeouts by Gabe Starks, who ended up pitching 2.2 key scoreless innings with four Ks and earned the win.
Santa Barbara backed him up in the bottom of the sixth with the most important inning of the game. Leach, of course, led off with a single. Seth Stevenson attempted a sac bunt, but the ball was bobbled by the first baseman for an error. Stinson’s own sac-bunt attempt was then dropped by the second baseman covering first. With the bases loaded and no outs, Kachel hit a double play ball and Leach scored the go-ahead run, but just after he did, Stevenson was cut down after rounding third too far. Though the fans saw a weird triple play, the Foresters went up 6-5.
The Foresters added insurance thanks in part to a perfect one-out hit-and-run play by “that man again,” Leach, who advanced Nate Rombach to third with a seeing-eye single. Stevenson then hit into what could have been an inning-ending double play, but the speedy shortstop beat the throw to first, allowing Rombach to slide in ahead of a tag at home for the final run.
Proctor then came on in the eighth with a man aboard. The Larks did load the bases, but Proctor struck out a Larks batter to end the threat. In the ninth, he earned his fifth save of the season, and by far his biggest, with three straight outs.
The Foresters will rest up for two days and return to action against the winner of the nightcap in Wichita between Cheyney and Lonestar. We’ll have more details as soon as they are available.