By Jim Buckley
It’s not how you start . . . it’s how you finish. That’s the lesson the Foresters learned Thursday. Held almost hitless for seven innings and trailing 3-1 heading into the eighth, Santa Barbara rallied for three runs in the final two frames to secure a thrilling 4-3 walk-off win over the SoCal Catch, their sixth victory in a row.
Rightfielder Ashton Easley, playing in his final Foresters game, stroked a single to right and pinch-runner Joey Fiske slid in just ahead of the tag to set off a wet and wild celebration centered on Easley. The young man that teammates call “The Colonel” has to leave the Foresters to fulfill duties in his other life as a US Air Force Academy cadet. But what a great way to end his time in Santa Barbara!
Well this is probably my last at bat for the Sters this summer so I wanted a good one,” a soaking wet Easley said. “With two strikes and a runner on third I had to protect the plate and try and put it in play and make something happen. It was definitely one of the favorite hits I’ve ever had.”
Before Easley could work his magic, Catch starter Zak Whittaker kept the Foresters bats quiet with a mix of offspeed pitches. Ryan Reynolds led off the second with a hit and stole second. He scored on an error by the Catch shortstop two batters later. The Catch then took the lead with two runs in the fifth off Foresters starter Jake McDonald, who pitched well enough to win most games. SoCal added a third in the top of the eighth before the Foresters started their rally.
Austin Todd smacked a one-out double off the right field fence. After being wild pitched to third, he scored on Evan Lee’s infield out to make the score 3-2.
The big ninth-inning rally started with one of the Foresters coaches’ most beloved moments: a “hard 90.” Reynolds hit what looked like a routine grounder to short, but through sheer hustle, beat the throw. A wild pitch sent pinch-runner David Hamilton to second and then Luke Ritter laid down a perfect bunt to move him along. David Clawson bounced a single through a drawn-in infield to tie the score.
Fiske was brought in to use his speed as a pinch-runner. He immediately stole second base. Then Easley crafted the fairy-tale ending and the walk-off was complete.
This year’s team has rarely played from behind, but showed they have the mettle to pull out close games. “[Playing so much small ball] was not the game plan going into the game,” said manager Bill Pintard. “We like to hit. We had to start bunting and moving runners. When a guy gets on second with no outs we gotta find a way to get him to third.”
The coach saw a team determined to come back no matter what. “They always felt they were in it. They never seemed defeated. They both thought and knew they were always in the game.”
The Foresters will carry that can-do spirit into a doubleheader on Friday against the Long Beach Legends. The first game will begin at Pershing Park at 2 pm (please note the time, as some of our schedules had it earlier; our apologies).