By Matt Mitchell
Needing a win, the Foresters turned to the man who can’t lose.
Starting pitcher Tanner Lawson improved to 6-0 for the season and Santa Barbara (28-12) knocked off the rival Conejo Oaks 2-1 Friday night at Pershing Park. As both offenses scratched and clawed their way to the finish line, it was the Foresters bats that did just enough to help their pitcher win the duel.
“Tonight’s game was kind of big,” Foresters manager Bill Pintard said. “We’d come up on the short end of the stick the past couple of nights and tonight we came up on the positive end. We executed, ran the bases right, and we chased early but we got it done when we needed to.”
Lawson was dominant, as has been the norm for him this season. He pitched 6 2/3 innings, allowing no runs on only four hits while striking out seven and walking none. He used his off-speed pitches effectively and had his fastball working as well, as Oaks hitters were never able to get comfortable.
“Tanner [Lawson] was really, really good tonight,” Pintard said. “His breaking ball was really good and his fastball is deceptive. Early on, he had pretty good location on it. He’s struggled with his fastball location, so when he does have location on it he’s really tough. And that breaking ball is a swing-and-miss pitch.”
In a game without much offense, Santa Barbara got one of its two runs on the board early. Joey Fiske drew a leadoff walk in the first inning then quickly stole second. Luke Ritter then ripped a single into center field to drive in Fiske, giving the Foresters an early 1-0. That was all scoring there would be for a while.
Clinging to a 1-0 lead heading into the seventh inning, Lawson came back out for another inning of work. A one-out triple forced Lawson from the game, however, and Nathan Wiles entered looking to preserve the lead with the runner on third. Wiles got the job done, getting two quick groundouts to end the Oaks’ threat.
In the bottom of the seventh, with the offense still struggling, the Foresters had to manufacture a run. Zach Humphreys drew a walk to leadoff the inning, with Ryan Cash then coming in to pinch-run. Spencer Steer then reached on a single and moved Cash over to second. One Oaks’ error later and Cash was at third base. Steven Coe then put down a suicide squeeze bunt to score Cash from third and give the Foresters a little more breathing room at 2-0. That extra run proved to be crucial later in the game.
Leading 2-0, Garrett Gayle came in to close the game out, as he looked to rebound following Thursday’s outing against the Blues. The inning began promisingly, with Gayle getting two quick punchouts. Then trouble began to brew.
Down to their final strike, the Oaks’ Brandon Lewis drew a walk. A pair of singles followed and just like that the bases were loaded. Grant Mayeaux then hit into what looked to be a game-ending groundout to the shortstop, but David Hamilton mishandled the ball and a run scored on the error to make it 2-1. With the bases still loaded and now nursing only a one-run lead, Gayle finally the Oaks’ threat, getting his third strikeout of the inning to end the game.
“This was really important for him,” Pintard said. “He needed that confidence back. When we kicked that ball we were thinking, ‘Oh great’ but he just needs to realize he’s a good pitcher with good stuff.”
The Foresters will be back in action tomorrow night at 6 p.m. at Pershing Park as they look to exact revenge against the San Luis Obispo Blues.