Foresters Fire Up the Summer Ball

Santa Barbara Semi-Pro Team Starts Undefeated; Plus, Mexico’s Big World Cup Win

Chase Illig accumulated a .472 batting average in the Santa Barbara Foresters’ first nine games, while closer Chase Wallace pitched the final inning of a no-hitter.
Paul Wellman

The life cycle of a baseball player begins when a 2-year-old sprout swings a plastic bat in the backyard, and it reaches a flowering in Santa Barbara when college men swing wood bats every June and July for the Foresters. Some of them will continue to grow — 39 former Foresters have appeared in the major leagues in the last 25 years — and many will wind up lobbing plastic balls to their own little sprouts.

“Summer ball is all about growing,” said John Jensen, who’s been hoisting the lumber for the Foresters this summer.

For the Santa Barbara club, it’s also about winning. In their first California Collegiate League game at Pershing Park, they banged out 17 hits in an 11-7 victory over the Healdsburg Prune Packers. Their pitchers came through a week later against the San Luis Obispo Blues. Last Saturday, six Forester hurlers combined to throw a no-hitter.

Caleb Sloan (TCU) threw the first four innings; then Garrett Crochet (Tennessee), Conner Woods (UNLV), Jackson Wolf (West Virginia), James Notary (TCU), and Chase Wallace (Tennessee) each took an inning to shut down the Blues. Collectively, they allowed five baserunners on walks, one of whom was out on a double play, in the 5-0 Santa Barbara win.

It was during that game that Jensen failed to get a hit for the first time in a long time. “I had a 24-game hitting streak,” he said, spanning his last 17 games at SBCC and first seven with the Foresters. The UC Irvine–bound outfielder punched out a single on Sunday to begin, possibly, another streak.

The Foresters showed resourcefulness on Father’s Day, when a 3-1 win over the Blues kept their season record perfect at 9-0 (6-0 in the league). They came up in the bottom of the seventh holding a 2-1 lead. An insurance run was called for. Kameron Guangorena (Cal State Fullerton) led off with a single and went to second on a wild pitch. Utah Jones (North Greenville U.) came up as a pinch hitter and stroked a grounder out to the right side, successfully advancing the runner to third. A sacrifice fly by Logan Allen (Arkansas–Fort Smith) brought the extra run home. Relief pitchers Hunter Breault (Oregon), Wolf, and Wallace assured the win for starter Brett Standlee (Oklahoma State).

Allen, Jensen, and catcher/designated hitter Chase Illig (West Virginia) are three Foresters hitting over .400.

“I watched a lot of [Foresters] games last summer and saw how hard these guys played, day in and day out,” Jensen said. “That’s what makes other teams scared to play at Pershing Park.”

In a nonleague game against the visiting Ventura Buccaneers last Friday, the Foresters pulled out a 5-4 win on a walk-off strikeout. Jensen was the batter who swung and missed a third-strike pitch with two out in the bottom of the ninth. The pitch eluded the Ventura catcher, who threw the ball away trying to retire Jensen at first, and Luke Ritter, last year’s Forester MVP from Wichita State, raced home all the way from second base with the winning run.

That’s the way it’s gone so far this season.

“We have fun, but we know when to get serious,” Jensen said, trying to explain the Foresters’ winning ways. “There’s good team chemistry. We keep an even keel.”

Bill Pintard, the club’s longtime chemistry professor/manager, was not thinking about their 8-0 start going into Sunday’s game. He resolutely strives to keep them in the moment. “I was just focused on today,” Pintard said. “Now I’m focused on Tuesday.”

That was to be the next game after their Monday night outing at an L.A. Angels game. Pintard arranged the annual adventure for the kids with cancer who participate in the Foresters’ Hugs for Cubs program.

The Foresters do some bonding during rides to their midweek games. They have two games against the SoCal Catch in La Mirada this week. “We’re home at 12:30 at night,” Jensen said. “Back on the road again the next day.”

But it will be home, sweet Pershing Park, for most of the next couple weeks. This Friday-Sunday, June 22-24, the Foresters will host the Catch and the Arroyo Seco Saints. Then, after a long road trip to Healdsburg, the Foresters will return on June 28 and play nine home games in 10 days through July 7, broken up only by a trip to San Luis Obispo on July 2.

BACK IN THE OLD U.S.S.R.: The opening days of the World Cup in Russia produced an exhilarating draw — Cristiano Ronaldo 3, Spain 3 — and a pair of surprises: Iceland freezing Argentina’s Lionel Messi in a 1-1 tie and Mexico upsetting Germany, 1-0.

There was a lusty cheer in the Delta Airlines terminal at LAX when Mexico’s Hirving Lozano hammered a first-half goal against Germany. “A lot of people were celebrating, not just our boys,” said Rudy Ybarra, coach of the Santa Barbara Soccer Club. “It was loud.”

The SBSC has sent two teams — the boys U15 and U17 — to the U.S. Youth Soccer Far West Regionals in Honolulu. They were able to watch the entire Sunday-morning match before their flight to Hawai‘i. Support for the Mexican team, El Tri, is strong in Southern California. Many soccer players and fans have Mexican roots, and others pull for the neighboring country as a substitute for the missing U.S. team.

Ybarra, a first-generation American who sparked Santa Barbara High’s run of titles in the early days of CIF soccer, predicted last week that Mexico would pose problems for Germany, the defending World Cup champion.

“Germany’s defenders are strong, but they couldn’t keep up with the quickness of the Mexican forwards,” he said. Lozano is one of several Mexican stars who play in the European leagues, and Ybarra said they have developed “the technical quality to play at high speed in tight spaces.”

Defensively, the Mexicans gave up a lot of possession to Germany in the second half but resolutely maintained their composure under a steady bombardment. If Ybarra could find a fault with Mexico, it was their failure to capitalize on opportunities to make the score 2-0, particularly when Javier “Chicharito” Hernández’s pass went astray on a counterattack. But the one-goal victory was enough to produce tears of joy from the Moscow stadium to Mexico City plazas to an L.A. airport boarding area.

Mexico will try to solidify its lead in Group F at 8 a.m. Saturday against South Korea, and Germany will kick off at 11 a.m. against Sweden. Harry Kane’s goal in extra time provided great relief to English fans, but most of them, sober or not, were disappointed by their team’s 2-1 squeaker against Tunisia. “Absolute rubbish,” muttered a Brit exiting The Press Room.


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