By Will Bashur (in Wichita)
It was the worst of times, it was the best of times. For four innings, the Foresters offense struggled to make a dent in the San Antonio Angels. In the final four innings, it was a different story. Santa Barbara exploded for all of its runs late in the game, beating the Angels 11-2 and earning a spot in the 2018 NBC World Series Championship Game. They will take on the NJCAA team on Saturday, August 11 starting at 5 pm. A victory in that game would give Santa Barbara and manager Bill Pintard an all-time record seven national championships.
The semifinal win showed all the best traits of the 2018 ’Sters. They rallied with clutch hits, they showed off tremendous pitching, they played stellar defense, and they stole six bases. They had to come back to win, too. Trailing 2-1 in the fifth against the Angels, the Foresters erupted for four runs and capped things off with a five-run eighth. Every player in the lineup had a hit, a run, or an RBI, led by Patrick Mathis and Utah Jones, who knocked in three runs each.
In the early going, Angels starter Richard Gilbert was the thorn in the Foresters’ side. Gilbert held the Foresters hitless for three innings, until Ryan Cash dunked a two-out single into center field following a Michael Neustifter walk. Utah Jones then drew the second walk of the inning off Gilbert to load the bases. Heavy-hitting catcher Slade Heggen stepped into the box in a critical scoring opportunity, but Gilbert was able to escape the jam by pumping an 0-2 fastball right past Heggen. Missed opportunities were the early-game pattern for the ’Sters. That would change.
Meanwhile, ’Sters starter Michael Hobbs was going toe-to-toe with Gilbert, as he stepped up to throw one of his best starts of the year. Hobbs fired five shutout innings and struck out four Angels, and allowed only four hits. The St. Mary’s Gael was pitching with Greg Maddux-like efficiency, as he just needed 59 pitchers to complete his outing. Hobbs fired strike after strike, as he didn’t walk a single San Antonio batter and kept the ’Sters in the game.
The Foresters finally got on the board first in the bottom of the fifth when Luke Ritter hit an RBI groundout to score Elijah Alexander, who had just stolen second and third.
Hobbs was replaced by Hunter Brealt to start the sixth, but the normally stalwart reliever had a rocky outing. Breault gave up a walk and two sharp singles. With the bases loaded and no one out, Breault walked designated hitter Garrett Wilkinson to drive in Ian Bailey, tying the game at 1-1. Coach Pintard, who had kept his pitching staff on a short leash the entire tournament, quickly strolled out to the mound to pull Breault, who hadn’t recorded an out. Pintard signaled for James Notary, but the trouble continued.
On Notary’s third pitch, the Angels pulled a surprise suicide squeeze as Dillon Stumpf laid down a bunt with the runner breaking for home. Notary was caught off guard, and he spiked a throw to the first baseman Neustifter, allowing the run to score and Stumpf to reach first safely. Luckily, Notary averted disaster by inducing a fielder’s choice and 6-4-3 double play to escape the no-out bases-loaded jam. The Angels led, 2-1.
The double play must have lit a fuse in the Foresters dugout, as they came out looking like a new team in the bottom of the sixth. Gilbert walked Jones and Neustifter, then gave up a single to Alexander—Jones scored to tie the game at 2-2. That would be all for Gilbert, who ended up walking an astonishing seven Foresters on the night. Southpaw Justin Lewis entered in relief of Gilbert, and Santa Barbara continued to ‘Ster it up as Logan Allen and Brandon Lewis knocked clutch two-out hits to give the Foresters a 5-2 lead at the end of the sixth.
The Foresters went on to score six more unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth innings combined, highlighted by Patrick Mathis’s towering three-run shot in the eighth.
Nico O’Donnell and Chase Wallace pitched spotless eighth and ninth innings to seal the victory, propelling the ‘Sters into their ninth NBC World Series Championship Game.
Santa Barbara will play in its ninth NBC Championship Game in 15 seasons. Be sure to tune into 1290 AM for full coverage of the game, beginning with the Coastal Copy Pregame Show at 4:45 SB Time.