Foresters develop strong bonds on the way to Wichita

The Santa Barbara Foresters begin their title defense at the NBC World Series on Friday night.

The Santa Barbara Foresters begin their title defense at the NBC World Series in Wichita, Kansas on Friday night.

At the beginning of the summer, manager Bill Pintard said the key to success for this year?s Foresters would be team chemistry.

?We just have to gel, chemistry-wise,? Pintard said in June.

Now, with just the National Baseball Congress World Series left for the team, the bond that the players have formed with each other has revealed itself in many different forms.

It was shown when standout catcher Jacob Felts went down with a shoulder injury in late June, and the team had to put together enough offense to win without Felts? .429 batting average.

It was shown when the Foresters committed a season-high six errors in one game against the Pacific Union Capitalists, but responded to win 13 of their next 15 games.

It was shown as recently as last week, when the Foresters clinched the North Division CCL Championship. At the conclusion of the game, pitchers Hunter Lemke and Louie Lechich teamed up to dump a celebratory cooler of Gatorade onto Pintard. When Pintard saw the duo attempting to sneak up on him, he ran away protesting. The Gatorade fell short of its target.

Santa Barbara Foresters

Foresters manager Bill Pintard gets doused by players Hunter Lemke and Louie Lechich. (Foresters/EMI Photography)

But Lemke and Lechich were not done. They grabbed another cooler of Gatorade and hid amongst their smiling teammates. At the conclusion of Pintard?s speech, they drenched him in blue Gatorade to the cheers of their teammates and the rest of the coaching staff.

?There?s definitely a lot of team chemistry with this group,? a dripping Pintard said after Friday?s win. ?They?re a really special group and they really care about each other.?

It has taken more than chemistry though for the Foresters to make it this far. Their 33 wins have come as a result of a consistently dominant pitching staff and a resilient small-ball offensive strategy.

Duke senior Drew Van Orden anchors the pitching staff, which has been the cornerstone of the Foresters? success. Van Orden?s 1.04 ERA ranks second in the California Collegiate League, and he also ranks second in the CCL in wins (5) and strikeouts (55).

Led by Lemke?s seven saves and Tejay Antone?s 1.80 ERA, a host of relief pitchers have ensured late-game success for the Foresters.

?If we get down early, we don?t panic because our pitchers have been pitching very effectively,? Pintard said. ?We know our pitching is going to keep the other team down.?

One area that hasn?t been as consistent for the Foresters has been offense. Out of the top 20 CCL batting averages, only Lechich?s .339 makes the cut, ranking 11th in the league. With 17 combined home runs in 49 games on the year, the Foresters have also been lacking in power.

Drew Van Orden - Santa Barbara Foresters

Santa Barbara’s Drew Van Orden was arguably the best starting pitcher in the CCL this summer. (Dvorak/Presidio Sports)

Pintard said from the beginning that this would be a team that relied on pitching and defense, but the inconsistency of the offense has hurt the ?Sters in crucial situations, including the CCL Championship series against the L.A. Brewers last weekend.

After pounding out 12 hits to score seven runs against the Santa Paula Halos on Friday night to clinch the CCL North Division Championship, the Foresters coughed up just one run in the two losses to the Brewers.

?We have had some lulls here and there [offensively], we just need to stay consistent in the batter?s box,? Lechich said of his team?s lackluster hitting efforts.

With CCL play behind them and the double-elimination NBC World Series beginning this weekend, the team will look to Lechich and Felts ? who played in his first game on Friday since injuring his shoulder ? to provide an offensive spark. But Pintard said that the team will also look to stick to the gritty, small-ball style that has proven effective for them all year.

?If we have to bunt and move guys over that way, then we will end up doing that,? Pintard said.

Pintard has shown throughout the season that he is not afraid to issue the bunt sign. The Foresters have laid down 37 sacrifice bunts this season, and have a combined 54 total sacrifices ? including sacrifice fly balls and groundouts.

Aggressive base-running has also been an advantage for the Foresters, who have several speedsters in their lineup. Ben Johnson and Steven Reveles have stolen 18 and 17 bases respectively, and are tied for the top two spots on the CCL?s stolen bases list. Colt Atwood ranks third on the list with 14 steals.

?Everybody knows that we want to steal,? Pintard said. ?They?ll do everything they can to keep us from running, but we are going to run. We play our game.?

Following the trend set by last year?s team though, the two-time defending national champions will mostly rely on their pitching staff as they look for a three-peat.

?We just need to be focused up there and win every pitch,? Antone said. ?If we do that, we should be fine.?

The Foresters begin the long bus ride to Wichita, Kansas on Tuesday, and will play their first World Series game on Friday night. Lemke said that the team has high expectations despite the losses in the CCL championship series last weekend.

?We?re going in? knowing that we are the team to beat and that everyone wants to beat us,? Lemke said. ?We just need to stay together as a team and play as a team and do everything all together. We just need to play our game.?