Photo by Vic Neumann
By Will Bashur
In a thrilling Thursday matchup that featured 25 runs, 30 hits, and five errors, the Foresters handily crushed the Orange County Riptide 18-7. Rightfielder Luke Ritter stole the show, as he we went 5-5 with a walk and six RBI, and hit for what is believed to be the first cycle in Santa Barbara’s history.
Though the final score suggested othewise, it certainly wasn’t a cakewalk for the ‘Sters.
Both clubs came out of the gates swinging, as each tacked on four runs in a hectic first inning. With three singles, a walk, and a Tyler Hardman two-RBI double, the Foresters took command of the game early as they jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
The Riptide responded almost immediately, as they put up their own four spot behind three hits. Leadoff hitter Mason Hibbeler started the rally with a bloop single, and Mason McWhorter followed with a soaring double to left center. After a hit batter and a walk, Riptide right fielder Thomas Delgadillo hit a soft roller to second baseman Hank LoForte. As pitcher Michael Hobbs and first baseman Tyler Hardman both scrambled to cover first, LoForte looped the ball over both players’ heads, allowing two more runs to score. Aaron Simpson then hit an RBI ground out to Brandon Zaragoza, and all of a sudden Orange County tied the game 4-4.
The Foresters clearly weren’t happy about losing the lead.
Logan Allen began the second with a beautiful bunt single placed perfectly along the third base line. After LoForte advanced Allen to second with a ground out, Ritter, the ’Sters hottest hitter, stepped into the box. The Wichita State Shocker pounced on the first pitch he saw, and sent a Colin Townsend fastball well over the left field fence back to Kansas. With Ritter’s shot, the ‘Sters retook the lead, 6-4.
For the third and fourth innings, both teams went back and forth trading runs.
Delgadillo drove in his second run of the game with an RBI single in the third, but Santa Barbara stole the run right back in the fourth as Ritter hit a blistering double to score Hank LoForte. After three and a half innings, Ritter was already three-quarters of the way to the cycle.
Orange County scored another run off of Forester starter Hobbs in the bottom of the fourth, when a bouncing grounder squirted under the legs of the second baseman LoForte. The error was the second of the day for LoForte, and allowed the Riptide to pull within one run, making the score 7-6.
LoForte made amends for the errors in the sixth when he roped a triple into the right field corner. Ritter stepped up to the plate, and the Riptide still couldn’t stop him, as he shot a single into the outfield to drive in LoForte for the third time on the day.
Continuing the pattern of the game, the Riptide responded with a run of their own in the seventh, when the slugging Delgadillo drove in yet another run with an RBI triple. At the end of seven, the Foresters and Riptide were still neck-and-neck, 8-7 Santa Barbara.
This wasn’t the case for long.
A relentless Santa Barbara opened the eighth with three consecutive singles from Allen, LoForte, and Ritter. After Chase Illig hit into a bizarre fielder’s choice that resulted in Ritter being tagged out at third, the ‘Sters were hit with a scare. Michael Neustifter walked into the batter’s box and hit a full count fastball squarely off his left knee. Neustifter immediately crumpled to the ground clutching his knee, and was unable to walk off the field without help. Because of the injury, Conor Davis was forced to enter the game and inherit Neustifter’s fill count. The sudden at bat didn’t catch Davis off guard, as he hit a high chopper that bounced right over the head of third baseman Mason Hibbeler, driving in LoForte and Illig. Davis’s clutch hit gave the ‘Sters some breathing room as they extended their lead to 11-7.
The ‘Sters didn’t stop with eleven runs.
In the ninth, Santa Barbara erupted for seven more runs, highlighted by Luke Ritter’s fifth hit of the contest. With runners on the corners, Ritter hit a laser that bounced off the wall in the deepest part of center field. Needing a triple to secure the cycle, Ritter raced around second and slid safely into third ahead of the throw. As exciting as the cycle was for Ritter, it was nothing new to him.
“I hit one in high school in a similar summer ball situation,” Ritter said. “It was in the back of my mind that all I needed was a triple, so that’s why I kinda stretched the double into a triple.”
The ‘Sters went out to score four more runs off RBI singles from Davis, Hardman, and Ryan Cash, giving the Foresters an astounding 18-7 lead. Santa Babara’s offense put up their largest totals of the season, as they finished with 20 hits.
But the Foresters would not have secured the victory if it weren’t for the incredible pitching performance of Brad Demco. Demco entered the game in the seventh with one out and a runner on third, and ended up pitching the rest of the game to earn an eight-out save. The southpaw reliever struck out five Riptide hitters and didn’t allow a single hit, preventing the Riptide from ever getting back in the game. Demco ended his night with a swinging strikeout of Aaron Simpson, sealing the rout.
The Foresters will take on the Riptide again tomorrow back home. First pitch will be at 6 PM at Pershing Park. Be sure to tune into 1290 AM for full coverage of the game, starting at 5:50 with the Coastal Copy Pregame Show.