Question marks surrounded both Usain Bolt and the Santa Barbara Foresters when they entered the ultimate arenas of competition this month, and they both answered them emphatically. But while Bolt’s repeat victories in the Olympic sprints at London were over in a flash, the Foresters had to grind out their second consecutive title in the National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series in Wichita, Kansas.
“This was probably the toughest of all,” said Foresters manager Bill Pintard, whose team earned its fourth NBC trophy in seven years. “We had to win all those games down the stretch, winning by scores like 2-1, 5-4. We didn’t have the most talent, but we did play as a team.”
When they were swept by the San Luis Obispo Blues in a three-game series a month ago, it appeared the Foresters would not win their own league, much less a national championship. But they proceeded to win 16 of their last 17 games — including all their remaining league outings. They went 7-1 in Wichita, beating teams from Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, and Washington.
“Our pitching and defense were outstanding,” said Pintard. In the final game, the Foresters took on the highest-scoring team in the tournament, the Seattle Studs. They won 6-2 behind the pitching of John Beck, the starter from Texas, and relievers Albert Minnis and Jacob Hursh.
Robert Vickers, a Dos Pueblos High graduate now at Long Beach State, scored the first run after leading off the bottom of the second with a double. Vickers, who hit .318 in the tournament, also scored the winning run in Santa Barbara’s 2-1 semifinal victory over El Dorado (Kansas) Broncos.
Zach Fish, a Foresters outfielder from Oklahoma State, was named the MVP of the 78th NBC World Series. He hit .471 and hammered a home run in the championship game. “The left fielder took one step back and watched it leave the park,” Pintard said. “I had a gut feeling that [Fish] would go off, and he did.” Second baseman Austin Davidson of Pepperdine also swung a hot bat (.481) in the tournament.
“It was a long 10 days,” Pintard said. “By the time you’re done, you’re wiped out.” Pintard rode the team bus back to Santa Barbara, while his wife and two daughters flew home. “We may be the only Santa Barbara family who spends their summer vacation in Wichita,” he said.
But he looks forward to going back again. “There’s never been a team to three-peat in 78 years,” Pintard said. His Foresters are now the only team with a chance to do that.
GOLDEN WOMAN: Four years after enduring last-minute heartbreak in Beijing, Kami Craig and the U.S. women’s water polo team earned their first gold medal in London. They left no doubts, thrashing Spain, 8-5, in the championship game. Positive thinking got them through it, and that has always been a strong point for the 25-year-old Craig, who successfully dealt with dyslexia as a student at Santa Barbara High and USC.
GAUCHO SHOUT-OUT: UCSB men’s water polo coach Wolf Wigo, a former captain of the Olympic team, was an NBC commentator in London. He did a good job explaining the game alongside Mike Emrick, the Hall of Fame hockey announcer who handled the play-by-play. Emrick told the nation about UCSB’s season-opening tournament next month at UCLA.
RIDING HIGH: The closest thing to an Olympics of surfing is the U.S. Open in Huntington Beach, and Santa Barbara produced two champions — 17-year-old Lakey Peterson, who dominated an international field in the women’s main event, and Conner Coffin, 19, in the junior pro competition.
TRAINING GROUND: Julius Brink and Jonas Reckermann of Germany rented an apartment in Santa Barbara last March so they could train at the East Beach volleyball courts with defending Olympic champions Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser. A bad match in London knocked the Americans out of the medal round, but the Germans upset Brazil’s top team to win the gold.
TURKISH WARRIOR: Turkey made a good showing in Olympic women’s basketball, winning four of six games, and Westmont College’s Tugce Canitez saw action in all of them. Canitez had a basket, a pair of rebounds, and a steal against the U.S. juggernaut, which beat the Turks in pool play, 89-58, and romped to its fifth consecutive gold medal. Turkey’s run ended in a 66-63 loss to Russia in the quarterfinals. The 6’2” Canitez, the 2012 NAIA Player of the Year, will return to Westmont for her senior year.
SOCCER HEAVEN: Former UCSB soccer players Chris Pontius (DC United forward) and Dan Kennedy (Chivas U.S.A. goalkeeper) were outstanding in the MLS All-Stars’ victory over European champion Chelsea. The current Gaucho team, ranked No. 11 on the national soccer coaches’ preseason poll, will make its debut at Harder Stadium at 7 p.m. on Saturday, August 18, in an exhibition match against Westmont.