Photo by Vic Neumann
By Will Bashur
The Foresters were 90 feet away from sending their CCL semifinals matchup with the Conejo Oaks to extra innings, but they couldn’t get the tying run across as they fell 3-2 to the fourth-seeded Oaks. Santa Barbara had the equalizer on third and the winning run on first with two outs in then ninth, but Oaks closer Angus Denton struck out Kamron Fields to end the tight game and eliminate the ’Sters from the playoffs.
But the suspenseful ninth inning was just a fraction of all the drama that occurred in the game.
The Oaks’ offense was aggressive against Foresters starter Caleb Sloan, as they cracked six hits off the TCU Horned Frog in less than two innings. Chase Cockrell shot a two-RBI double down the left field line in the first to open the scoring for Conejo. Center fielder Elijah Alexander followed Cockrell by ripping his own RBI double down the right field line, driving in Cockrell and giving the Oaks a 3-0 lead with just one out.
Sloan got knocked around some more in the second, as Will Picketts and Brandon Lewis both hit sharp singles to put runners on the corners with two outs. After Lewis’s single, Coach Bill Pintard had seen enough from Sloan. After just one and two-thirds innings, Caleb Sloan was done for the day, having given up three runs off six hits and one walk. Coach Pintard called in Tanner Bibee from the bullpen, who stepped up big time for Santa Barbara.
Bibee immediately stopped the bleeding, and almost single-handedly kept the Foresters in the game. The Cal State Fullerton Titan tossed four and a third innings of scoreless baseball, and retired the first ten batters he faced. Bibee’s shut down relief appearance opened up a window for the Foresters to fight their way back into the game
Santa Barbara finally got to Conejo starter Dylan Francis in the fourth when Utah Jones slapped a single down the left field line to drive in Michael Neustifter, cutting Conejo’s lead to 3-1. In the fifth, Ryan Cash slashed Santa Barbara’s deficit in half when he launched a two-out 2-2 changeup well over the right field fence. The home run was Cash’s first of the summer, and it couldn’t have come at a better time as he put the Foresters back within one run, 3-2.
Tanner Bibee exited in the seventh, and the flame-throwing reliever Hunter Breault entered in his place.
Breault pitched yet another phenomenal outing, as he threw three shutout innings behind five strikeouts. The Oregon Duck blew away the Conejo offense with a fastball that topped at 94 mph, and prevented the Oaks from running away with the game.
The bottom of the eighth inning brought some action that was even hotter than Breault’s fastball.
With one out, Luke Ritter stood in the batter’s box. Ritter worked the count full, and on the payoff pitch, looked at what appeared to be ball four just above his ankles. But as Ritter was trotting to first, the home plate umpire rung him up, and the Foresters exploded. Ritter did a 360 and started screaming at the umpire, pointing to the ground as to indicate that the pitch was well below the strike zone. As Ritter was giving his two cents, Coach Pintard stormed out of the dugout and began shouting at the umpire as well. Pintard was immediately ejected as first base coach Skyler Ellis attempted to play peacemaker. When the dust had finally settled, the Foresters crowd was still groaning in disbelief, and the game proceeded into the ninth when Cameron Warren popped up on the first pitch to end the eighth.
After Breault threw a spotless ninth, the scene was set for a ’Stars comeback.
In the last half of the ninth, Conner Woods began a one-out rally with a single off Oaks reliever Jackson Simonsgaard. After Simonsgaard retired Jones to record the second out of the inning, Tyler Hardman poked a single that landed in front of the center fielder Alexander, advancing Woods to third. With runners on the corners and two outs, the Oaks manager called upon his side-armed closer, Angus Denton.
Kamron Fields stepped into the batter’s box needing just a single to tie the game. Fields fouled the first pitch, then swung through the second, but struck out looking on the third, securing the upset for the Oaks.
The Foresters still have plenty of baseball to play, as they will head to Wichita for the NBC World Series on July 31st. Their first game will take place on Friday August 3rd. More details about the timing and opponent will be available in the coming days. As always, tune into 1290 AM for complete coverage of the game.