Close encounters of the baseball kind are among the best displays of performance under pressure. There were a number of cliffhangers on area diamonds last week.
At the start of the week, San Marcos High led the Channel League with a 3-0 record, while the Santa Barbara Dons were 1-3. Unless they could string together some wins, the Dons were in danger of missing out on the CIF playoffs for the first time in 19 years.
Thanks to the Swede spot in their lineup, the Dons took two close games from the Royals, 1-0 and 2-1. For three years now, the crosstown rivals have been playing their games on a tightrope. Six of the nine contests have been decided by one run.
Linus Holmberg, an exchange student from Sweden, delivered both game-winning RBIs. His seventh-inning single on Wednesday brought home Bijan Palme with the only run of the game, and on Friday, an almost identical knock into short centerfield sent Nick Dallow to the plate, breaking a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning.
“It’s definitely a great week for Dons baseball,” Holmberg said. He celebrated with Palme, who pitched a complete game. “He’s one of my best friends,” Holmberg said. “We connected at the start of the year.” Palme, who believes longtime Swedish prime minister Olof Palme was his great, great uncle, will visit Sweden for the first time with Holmberg this summer.
Palme benefited from his defense. Shortstop Tommy John Holguin made several outstanding plays. Aside from a long double by Ryan Guardino, who scored the Royals’ run in the second, every promising swat out of the infield died in the gloves of Santa Barbara outfielders Joe Firestone and Caleb Norton.
Firestone said the Dons must concentrate on the fundamentals of pitching and defense. “Not a single guy on the team has a home run,” the senior said. “We’ve played a million one-run games.”
They had lost five one-run games this season before turning the tables on San Marcos. For the Royals, it was a frustrating week, as their only misplays led to both of Santa Barbara’s winning runs. “It’s tough,” Royals coach Jacob Pepper said. “It’s not our character. Clean baseball is the name of the game.”
At this stage of the 12-game league season, it’s a wide-open affair. Ventura (3-0-1) has moved into first place, followed by San Marcos (3-2), Santa Barbara (3-3), and Dos Pueblos (2-3-1). Ventura must play the Dons and Royals five times. Dos Pueblos, the league’s champion or co-champ for five straight years, has four more dates against Santa Barbara and San Marcos.
Another team behind the eight ball was UCSB. After blowing a five-run lead in a loss to visiting UC Irvine on Friday, the Gauchos found themselves trailing the Anteaters 7-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday. Up came Sam Cohen, who will forever be remembered for his walk-off grand slam that sent the Gauchos to the College World Series last year. This time, the sophomore ignited a comeback by blasting a home run off Irvine reliever Andre Pallante, a fireballing right-hander (98 mph on the radar gun) who had struck out the side in the seventh inning.
Three runs later, UCSB trailed 7-6 in the bottom of the ninth. With one out, Cohen came through again, his smooth lefty stroke sending a single into right field. Pinch runner Tevin Mitchell raced home from first base on a double by Kenny Corey to tie the score. JJ Muno fell behind the count 0-2 in the next at-bat, but he refused to give in and earned a base on balls, the last pitch bouncing away and allowing Corey to take third. Freshman outfielder Armani Smith then slammed a sacrifice fly to deep center, as a smiling Corey trotted 90 feet to UCSB’s 8-7 victory.
The Gauchos still have a lot of work ahead to improve their standing in the Big West. They’ll try to sustain momentum this weekend in a non-conference series against visiting San Diego State, a red-hot team that scored 36 runs in its last two games at UNLV.
The 2 p.m. Saturday (April 22) game will include a tribute to the late Dave Gorrie, a Hall of Fame UCSB athlete who coached the Gaucho baseball team from 1960 to 1977. Former players, including members of the 1972 championship team, will gather at a 10 a.m. celebration and a tailgate lunch. The public is invited. Visit ucsbgauchos.com/gorrie.
Foresters’ New Home
After two decades at the UCSB diamond, the Santa Barbara Foresters will be coming to town in the summer of 2017. The six-time National Baseball Congress champions have worked out an agreement with the city and S.B. City College to play their home games at Pershing Park. Details will be forthcoming.
An all-comers’ five-on-five basketball tournament will be held on Saturday, April 29, in the back parking lot of Old Mission Santa Barbara. All proceeds ($25 entry fee per player, $125 per team) will go to Transition House. Contact Alex Turcios (email@example.com) for information. … Former S.B. High basketball star Amber Melgoza saw limited action during her freshman year at Washington — dominated by senior Kelsey Plum, the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer — but Melgoza got a chance to shine in the U.S.A. Women’s 3x3 National Tournament at Colorado Springs, where she hit some big shots in Washington’s 20-17 victory over Oregon for the championship.
S.B. Athletic Round Table: Athletes of the Week
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