August heat waves in Kansas are nothing new. But this month, Wichita experienced an unexpected siege of high pressure from a bunch of coastal California baseball players. The Santa Barbara Foresters went into the 77th National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series as lukewarm contenders and proceeded to win seven consecutive games, culminating in a 1-0 victory over the Peninsula Oilers of Kenai, Alaska, last Saturday for their third national championship.
The Foresters, who also won NBC titles in 2006 and 2008, did it with pitching, defense, and moxie. They had some luck, too—not including the lost coin flips that forced them to be the visiting team in their first six games—but with their eternally optimistic manager Bill Pintard setting the tone, they had a way of making their own breaks.
The key was their opening game on August 3. It took place in the middle of the afternoon against an acclimated Kansas team, the Hutchison Monarchs. “It must have been 115 degrees on the field,” said Chase Yost, one of the “pine brothers” in the Santa Barbara dugout. “Everybody thought, ‘Oh, my god, those Cali boys can’t handle that.’ ”
In the late innings, the heat was getting to Foresters shortstop Shane Kroker. “Keep him upright,” Pintard pleaded to the team’s trainer, Sergio Ibarra. With the score tied 6-6, the manager wanted to save Kroker’s spot for pinch-hitter Richard Stock. Kroker managed to get through the ninth inning; Stock led off the 10th with a double; pinch-runner Christian Summers was bunted over to third; and a squeeze bunt by Jeff McNeil brought home what proved to be the winning run.
“We pushed all the right buttons,” Pintard said. He was indebted to Ibarra. “Our trainer was our MVP. He was working his rear end off keeping our guys from heat exhaustion.”
The Foresters went into the final day as the tournament’s only undefeated team, meaning that the Peninsula Oilers would have to beat them twice. The Foresters put up a first-inning run in typical fashion: a leadoff single by Brett Vertigan; a bunt single by McNeil, advancing Vertigan to third; and a scoring fly ball by Jeff McVaney. Starting pitcher Mitch Mormann and reliever Spenser Messmore blanked the Oilers on four hits, and the Foresters piled themselves on the field after the final out.
“It’s an atmosphere you’re going to experience a couple times in your life,” said Yost, a reserve outfielder from Santa Ynez and the only current Forester who also was a member of the 2008 team. “We handled it so well. After we got through the first couple games, we started smelling another championship.”
Pintard and the handful of players who rode the team bus back to Santa Barbara smelled the need for showers after 27 hours on the road. They put 3,432 miles on the bus, a 1978 MCI Crusader, which they acquired seven years ago from the erstwhile Melni Bus Company.
The champions include three players who will take the field for new UCSB baseball coach Andrew Checketts in 2012: Vertigan, the speedy leadoff hitter who scored eight runs in the NBC tournament; outfielder Joe Wallace, who hit 0.313; and utility man Lance Roenicke.
Mike Scioscia, the manager of the Los Angeles Angels, called Pintard to congratulate him during the bus ride. “He loved how we scored that run [in the final game],” Pintard said. Scioscia, whose son played for Santa Barbara’s rivals, the Conejo Oaks, once called the Foresters “the Evil Empire.” But after bringing the NBC trophy back from the Midwest, they are the toast of the California Collegiate League.
HEAVEN’S GATE OPENS: Westmont College’s Warriors will visit UCSB’s “Soccer Heaven” on Saturday, August 20, to kick off the 2011 college season. The host Gauchos, ranked as high as ninth in NCAA preseason polls, feature a deep roster with many players competing for positions. The match begins at 7 p.m. at Harder Stadium.
Jürgen Klinsmann, the new head coach of the U.S. men’s national team, wants to see a coordinated effort at all levels of the sport to strengthen America’s presence in World Cup and other international competitions. Chris Pontius attests to the quality of soccer prescribed by UCSB coach Tim Vom Steeg and his staff. Pontius developed into a first-rate striker during his four-year career as a Gaucho. He now plays for D.C. United and was named Major League Soccer Player of the Week after scoring two goals in a 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps. Younger brother Tim Pontius is a senior defender on this year’s UCSB team.
CRUISING IN CHINA: UCSB’s Orlando Johnson and the U.S. men’s basketball team won its first three games at the World University Games by an average of 45 points. The WUGs are an Olympic-style competition without the hype and without the excesses of professionalism and commercialism. The athletes are required to be 17-24 years old and no more than a year out of college.