Thanks to a clutch spot start by Louie Lechich and timely two-out hitting, the Santa Barbara Foresters stand one win away from clinching the California Collegiate League North Division title.
Needing two wins in the next three games to secure a spot against the LA Brewers on Saturday and Sunday, the Foresters returned San Luis Obispo for the second of three on Wednesday night and came away with a 4-1 victory.
Lechich took the mound for his second start of the season, his first time facing the Blues this season. Lechich’s first bit of trouble came in the second inning, walking a man with two outs to allow Blues on first and second. However, Nick Flair chased a ball in the dirt one a 2-2 count and Lechich escaped.
A similar scenario arose in the fourth, as men stood at first and second with just one out. Again Lechich maneuvered out of it, striking out Daniel Garner and forcing Flair to ground out as he ended the inning again.
The Foresters struck first with one run in the top of the fourth inning. A leadoff double by Ryan O’Hearn was cashed in by Austin Darby on a two-out single.
Three more came home in the fifth to cushion the lead for Lechich, thanks to a close call at first base on a liner by Garrett Mattlage. The ball ricocheted off of Blues pitcher Corey Ray and rolled toward second baseman Blake Allemand whose throw did not beat Mattlage according to the umpire, despite opposition from the crowd.
From there on the Foresters simply put the ball in play and let the runs trickle in. After a walk for Joey Epperson to put two on, Ryan O’Hearn singled in the first run of the inning. Rice teammates Shane Hoelscher and the newly arrived Michael Aquino each singled in runs to complete the inning.
After allowing men on first and second with just one out, Lechich departed for Willie Kuhl in the sixth. Lechich finished the game with three strikeouts, three walks and five hits allowed in his five and a third innings pitched.
Kuhl walked the first man he faced to load the bases, but Daniel Garner chased a slider well outside the zone for strike three and Flair ended his third rally with a groundout to second base. He remained in for the seventh and put down the Blues in order.
Tejay Antone entered in the eighth inning and cruised through a 1-2-3 inning on just 9 pitches. Returning for the ninth, Antone struck out the first batter of the inning. After a walk and a two base error on a pickoff attempt, the Blues broke the shutout thanks to a RBI single by Andrew Lee. The TCU right-hander immediately recovered by striking out the final two batters of the game to close it out.