By Jim Buckley (in SB) (photo by Brett Schauf)
The unlikeliest of Foresters seasons—half as long as normal, no fans at Pershing, and masked more than any catcher ever—ended in the likeliest of ways, with the ’Sters winning their eighth NBC World Series National Championship. All the hard work the team and its staff and players went through to battle challenges presented by the pandemic paid off with a dogpile on the mound after Santa Barbara beat the Cheney Diamond Dawgs 12-3.
The 2020 championship joins even-numbered-year titles in 2006, ’08, ’12, ’14, ’16, and ’18 (plus the 2011 numerical wild-card championship). The Foresters extended their all-time record of titles and moved to 8-2 in championship games. This was the 86th NBC tournament, and Santa Barbara remains the best team in the competition’s long history.
The 2020 team did it with a stunning four-game performance in which they outscored their opponents 33-4 while playing perfect defense, and even throwing a combined no-hitter in the second game. Sean Johnson threw six perfect innings in that game was named the NBC World Series MVP.
In Monday’s game, after going 1-for-16 in Saturday’s win over this same Diamond Dawgs team, the Foresters’ top four crushed it on Monday. The quartet went 7 for 19 with seven RBI and a pair of homers.
The McLain brothers were a particularly powerful pair, accounting for half of the ’Sters runs. SS Matthew had two hits including a homer and scored three runs. 3B Sean had three hits to go with his three runs and also stole two bases. Jace Jung also had a homer and three RBI, while 2020 RBI leader Christian Encarnacion continued his hot hitting with a pair of ribbies. And CF Hunter Cullen had his second homer of the tournament.
As usual, the Foresters wasted no time getting on top. Matthew M. hit the first pitch of the game up the middle for a single. Jung continued his superb 2020 hitting by blasting a homer over the left field wall.
(It was Jung’s tenth, tying for the season team lead with Encarnacion. That total ties for second-best all-time in Foresters’ wood-bat history, a stunning stat given that the team played for just over a month. Worth noting as well is Matthew McLain’s .436 average, good for third-best all-time by a Foresters player; Jung was not far behind at .404. And let’s give a shoutout, if you can catch him, to Pat Caulfield, who was a perfect 25-for-25 in steals, another all-time top 10 performance.)
Back in the final, Pea Soup pickup Cullen smacked a leadoff homer in the fourth after a Dawgs’ reliever had quieted the ’Sters bats for a while. A Sean M. double then chased that lefty from the game. Sean later scored on a two-out RBI single by Encarnacion to right.
In the fifth, Sean then got his own two-out RBI to score Pat Caulfield, who had singled and stolen second. Brother drove in brother on the next pitch, when Matthew sailed the ball over the left-field fence to move the score to 8-0.
Caulfield got yet another two-out RBI in the sixth, driving in Sean M. A pair of errors and a wild pitch allowed Caulfield to come across with run No. 10.
In the seventh, Jung knocked in another run on a sac fly to score Sean. A comebacker to the pitcher by Encarnacion sent Matthew home for an even dozen. Remarkably, that was Encarnacion’s team-best 47th RBI of 2020, accomplished in only 29 games. That was the fifth-highest single-season total in ’Sters history—all of the other were done in 40-plus games.
Starter Nick Nastrini was touched up for hits in each of the first two innings, but he and the ’Sters defense buckled down and the Dawgs stranded two men, including one on third each time. Nastrini ended up with four scoreless innings, allowing only four hits while striking out four. In his two games in Wichita, Nastrini allowed no runs while striking out an impressive 15 while earning two wins.
Nick Proctor, Bryce Warrecker, and Sean Mullen worked the fifth, sixth, and seventh and kept the Dawgs off the scoreboard. Blake Adams pitched the eighth with no trouble, and Elijah Trest got the honors of touching off the dogpile, although he did give up a three-run homer. For his part, Warrecker earned a spot in the Foresters’ record book, too; his 0.36 ERA was the third-lowest ever recorded, while Luke Taggart’s 0.72 was the ninth-best ever. Justin Campbell’s 0.00 ERA was awesome, too, but in only 14 innings (still…wow!).
The 2020 Foresters season presented unique and unlikely challenges, but the team and everyone associated with it rose to the occasion again and again. The entire organization once again thanks the City of Santa Barbara and the many folks there who helped make the games possible, as well as Santa Barbara City College, our amazing summer interns, and the board and volunteers—led by the inimitable leader, Christina Songer. We look forward to having fans back live in Pershing Park next summer!
As always, ’STER IT UP!