Foresters open NBC with 9-0 mercy-rule win

WICHITA — So far, so good.

Chris Joyce was a little shaky at the start and the Casa Grande (AZ) Cotton Kings hung around for awhile thanks to a strong start from lefty Calvin Lewis, but the two-time tournament champion Santa Barbara Foresters scored eight runs in the sixth and picked up a 9-0 mercy-rule shutout in the opening game of the National Baseball Congress World Series.

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Wichita State righty Tim Kelley relieved Joyce in the fifth and pitched three perfect innings to close the game out.

Joyce, a fourth-year Forester who went 7-0 on the regular season and won California Collegiate League Pitcher of the Year honors, gave up two walks and a single to open the game, but Patric Tolentino picked off a runner trying to steal second on a great tag by Michael Ratterree and Joyce got the final two outs to escape unscathed. The Cotton Kings led off the third with a double by catcher Greg Solomon and he reached third on a wild pitch, but Joyce, who always seems to make his starts entertaining, retired the next three. He gave up just two hits through four innings with five strikeouts.

“Joyce never really located his fastball, but he got the curveball working and got some punch-outs and settled in,” said manager Bill Pintard, who said that he thought the middle-of-the -night 80-degree heat got to his team a bit in the game.

Kelley threw three balls to the first batter he faced but followed with three straight strikes, finishing with five strikeouts in a nine-up, nine-down performance. The second-year Forester reflected on why Joyce can be considered a “cardiac kid” of a pitcher.

“That’s absolutely his style. He had a runner on third with no outs in the first inning we’re sitting down there in the bullpen laughing, saying ‘you know he’s gonna get out of this without giving up any runs,”’ he said. “That’s why he’s been so successful this summer.”

Nick Melino drove in Patric Tolentino on a single in the fifth to break the scoreless tie, and the Foresters sent 13 batters to the plate in the top of the sixth. Ratterree drove in Jeff McVaney on a fielder’s choice, and James Wharton hit a ground-ball triple down the left-field line that drove in two more.

“I don’t think he’s ever had a ground-ball triple before. That’s pretty rare,” said Kelley. “But he made it all the way around somehow. I thought he was gonna fall down going to third.”

The Cotton Kings committed a two-out error two batters later and walked four more Foresters in the frame. McVaney also added a two-run double before being ejected on a hard slide home that ended the inning. McVaney, a fullback for the Texas State football team, collided hard with Casa Grande catcher Greg Solomon at the plate. The umpire said he dipped his shoulder on the slide.

“That was the call. It wasn’t malicious in any way,” said Pintard, who argued it vehemently afterwards.

Jeremy Rathjen reached base all four times at the plate with two stolen bases and two runs scored. Shortstop Shane Kroker had a great game defensively, executing a handful of bang-bang put-outs while dealing with Lawrence Dumont Stadium’s turf infield, which tends to bounce balls like a trampoline.

Lewis struck out six and scattered three singles in the first four innings.

“It was surprising, because his stats weren’t very good. He had walked a lot of batters previously, but he pitched the game of his life until we got to him a bit,” said PIntard.

The Foresters (41-9) play the League City (TX) Hornets at 5:30 p.m. California time on Thursday. The Hornets feature former Forester reliever Matt Evers, who pitches for Rice University. All games are broadcast on AM 1490 and sbforesters.org.