In a showdown between the last two National Baseball Congress champions, the Santa Barbara Foresters defeated the Havasu (Arizona) Heat 5-3 on Wednesday night and will advance directly to the finals of the 74th annual NBC World Series in Wichita, Kansas.
At 4 p.m. Pacific time Friday, the Santa Barbara club will face the winner of Thursday’s semifinal game between the Beatrice (Nebraska) Bruins and the Seattle Studs. The Foresters, the only undefeated team in the tournament with a 6-0 record, are just one win away from the championship. They would have to lose back-to-back games Friday to be denied the crown.
It has happened before: In 2005, the Foresters were unbeaten until the final day when the Prairie Gravel of Illinois came out of the losers’ bracket and upset them in a two-game final. The Foresters left no doubt in 2006, when they went 7-0 in sweeping to their first national championship. They tried to fight their way out of the losers’ bracket last summer, but the Havasu Heat eliminated them in the quarterfinal round.
The Foresters returned the favor by ousting the Heat on Wednesday night. After three consecutive come-from-behind victories, Santa Barbara took advantage of two Havasu errors in the first inning to score three runs, and never looked back. Austin Fleet, a right-hander from Coastal Carolina, pitched 6 2/3 innings to pick up the victory. He allowed two runs on four hits.
The Foresters padded a 3-1 lead in the sixth inning by manufacturing a run when Andre Miller went to third base at the front end of a double steal and scored on a sacrifice fly by Kevin Keyes. Leading 4-3 entering the ninth, they secured an insurance run when Keyes singled, stole second and scored on a base hit by Sean Nicol.
Foresters closer Joey Cutler shut down the Heat in the bottom of the ninth.