With the California Collegiate League North Division title potentially slipping away, the Santa Barbara Foresters grabbed hold of a six run lead and never looked back.
Following a disappointing series up north at rival San Luis Obispo, the Foresters returned to their home field for the season finale with starter Blake Fox pitching effectively wild early on and settling in to shut down the Halo offense.
Fox finished with five scoreless innings pitched, five strikeouts and four walks on 85 pitches and the Forester bullpen followed up with a dazzling final four innings to completely stump Santa Paula.
Meanwhile, Santa Barbara’s offense produced six runs in the fourth and fifth innings, more than enough support for its standout pitching performances.
Early on, neither Santa Barbara or Santa Paula could push a run home despite ample opportunities.
Fox worked out of men on second and third with one out in the first inning, but induced Colton Waltner to ground into a 5-4-3 double play to escape. The Halos had a man reach third with two outs in the second, but Fox struck out Connor Graham on three pitches to end the inning.
Halos’ starter Keaton Leach escaped even tougher jams, walking three men in the first inning and still escaping unscathed. After Garrett Mattlage walked and was thrown out stealing second, Joey Epperson and Ryan O’Hearn each walked to have first and second with two outs before Shane Hoelscher flew out.
Louie Lechich opened the second inning with a single to the right side and Ben Johnson reached first on a bunt. Jacob Felts, returning to the lineup after missing 23 of the past 25 games, sacrificed them both up. However, the Foresters again failed to capitalize with men in scoring position as Keaton Jones popped out and Colt Atwood struck out on a full count.
After trading 1-2-3 third innings, Fox again worked into some trouble in the fourth as he walked two in before Ryan Xepoleas grounded out to end the inning.
The Foresters jumped on Leach again in the fourth, with Hoelscher and Lechich each singling with no outs. Johnson struck out and Felts flew out to center, risking another wasted inning before Keaton Jones ripped a ball to the hole at shortstop.
John Brontsema dove and kept the play in the infield to hold off a run crossing as the Foresters loaded the bases. However Brontsema’s heroics were short lived, as Colt Atwood hit a ball similar to Jones’ and the shortstop’s throw to second went wide.
With Hoelscher home thanks to Atwood’s single, Lechich trotted home thanks to Brontsema’s error and the Foresters took a 2-0 lead.
Fox cruised through a 1-2-3 fifth and final inning that included two strikeouts and the Foresters backed him up with another four runs to put the game out of reach for the Halos. Epperson drilled a solo home run, his first of the season, over the left field wall to leadoff the inning. O’Hearn followed with a fly ball to right field that was dropped by Nicholas Murphy and Lechich singled, advancing to second on a throw home to prevent O’Hearn from scoring.
After Johnson was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Felts hit a fly ball to center and O’Hearn crossed for the fourth run of the game. Jones stepped in and smacked a two-out double down the left field line to score two more and break the game open, 6-0.
Tejay Antone entered in the sixth to relieve Fox, sending the Halos back in order. Austen Williams entered in the seventh, and despite walking Jeff Paschke to leadoff the inning, maintained the 6-0 lead with a strikeout and two fly outs.
Williams stayed in for the eighth inning, allowing a pop up single before a strikeout followed by an inning ending double play.
In his first appearance since last Sunday, Hunter Lemke allowed a leadoff triple before forcing three groundouts, one to score the lone Halo run, to end the game and clinch the North Division.