By Will Bashur
The Foresters walked all over the Academy Barons on Wednesday, drawing ten free passes on the way to a 5-4 victory in Compton. Santa Barbara knocked just three hits off the Barons’ pitching staff, but rode a four-run fifth inning to bounce back from Tuesday’s heartbreaking defeat.
Santa Barbara’s defense was on display early, as starting pitcher Jake Jackson and third baseman Conor McKenna made exceptional plays to halt a Barons’ scoring opportunity in the first. Jackson fielded a slow chopper up the first base line and attempted to tag the runner as he ran towards the bag. But Jackson overran first base, and was forced to make a desperate, no-look flip over his right shoulder to retire Trent Anderson in acrobatic fashion. McKenna then speared a line shot with an impressive vertical jump, ending the threat.
Barons starter Julian Jackson came out firing on all cylinders, striking out four through three no-hit innings. The Foresters’ offense didn’t break through until the fourth inning, when McKenna and Jacob Katzfey drew two walks to start the top of the frame. Jackson then struck out Connor Pavolony and Isaac Coffey for his fifth and sixth strikeouts, and looked poised to escape the jam unscathed. But Spencer Jones rained on Jackson’s parade, roping a single into right field to record the Foresters’ first hit and give Santa Barbara a 1-0 lead.
The Barons quickly responded in the bottom of the inning, as Matthew Elizalde and Christian Poche smacked singles to put runners on first and second with just one out. Anderson then stepped up to the plate and hit a high pop up behind third base. Three Foresters defenders converged on the ball but couldn’t reach it before it plopped on the ground and was subsequently kicked into the bullpen by a sprinting Ryan Cash. The bizarre play was ultimately ruled a ground-rule double for Anderson, tying the game at 1-1. Channy Ortiz followed with a sharp single, driving in Poche and Anderson to give the Barons a more comfortable 3-1 lead.
But the ’Sters weren’t willing to let another game slip from their grasp.
In the fifth, Santa Barbara continued their streak of patience at the plate, as Diego Harris and Cash drew walks off Barons reliever Travis Lavendier to start the inning. Eric Kennedy followed with an 0-2 single, loading the bases for McKenna. McKenna watched four straight pitches sail too high to draw a bases-loaded walk, cutting the Foresters deficit in half, 3-2. Katzfey continued the rally by smoking a fastball down the first-base line, driving in two more runs with a double to reclaim the lead for Santa Barbara, 4-3. Lavendier continued to unravel when he was called for a balk, allowing McKenna to score and give the ’Sters a 5-3 lead.
The Forester bullpen flexed their muscles over the next four innings, as Nico O’Donnell, Brad Demco, and Hunter Breault combined for four strikeouts to keep the Barons’ bats at bay.
Santa Barbara looked to be cruising to the finish line when closer Conner Woods entered the game in the ninth, but the Barons sought to make things interesting before all was said and done.
After Woods conduced a pop up from Anderson, Ortiz slammed a double into the right-center gap. Baisel Williams Jr. then hit a hard single through the left side to drive in Ortiz and put the Barons within one, 5-4. But the rally ended as quickly as it started, as the Barons killed their own chances of a comeback with a strike ’em out/throw ‘em out double play to end the game.
The Foresters will return to Pershing Park Thursday to play the San Luis Obispo Blues on Santa Barbara Independent Night. Tune in to AM 1290 at 6PM to catch all the action.