Foresters win, earn berth in CCL Championship Series

On the final day of the regular season, the Foresters’ offense finally came alive to score seven runs against the Santa Paula Halos to clinch the CCL North Division Title and a spot in the CCL championship series.


Santa Barbara’s bats responded to a disappointing three-game series against the second place San Luis Obispo Blues by pounding out 12 hits to beat the Halos 7-1 on Friday night. In the three-game series against the Blues, the Foresters scored just six combined runs.

The two losses to the Blues put the pressure on the Foresters. A loss to the Halos combined with a Blues win over the Conejo Oaks would put the CCL championship out of reach for the ‘Sters.

But Louie Lechich’s four hits and three runs scored secured the Foresters’ spot in the CCL championship. Lechich said that his team’s ability to put the pressure aside and focus on the game was key in the victory.

“We knew that if we won, we clinched, and everyone stayed loose and treated it like it was any other game,” Lechich said.

Everyone, that is, except for Forester manager Bill Pintard, who was more than aware of the magnitude of the game.

“I was a little on edge today because I knew how important it was for us to win,” Pintard said. “We wanted to play for something tomorrow.”

The Foresters struck first in the bottom of the fourth inning when three singles from Shane Hoelscher, Lechich, and Keaton Jones loaded the bases. Hoelscher scored on a Colt Atwood single, and Lechich was waved home when Santa Paula shortstop John Brontsema committed a throwing error.

A four-run fifth inning blew the game open for Santa Barbara. Joey Epperson broke out of a one-for-19 slump with a leadoff home run, and a two-run double from Jones secured the win for the Foresters.

Meanwhile, Forester starter Blake Fox struggled with control in the early innings, but managed to hold the Halos scoreless through his five innings pitched. The Rice sophomore picked up the win, striking out five, walking four and giving up just two Halo hits.

“He battled,” Lechich said of Fox. “Some days you just don’t have it and you have to scuffle and claw and fight and that’s what he did today. When the defense did get involved, they made big plays and it was good to see him battle out there.”

The Forester defense played nine innings without an error for the first time since July 19 against the Oaks.

Tejay Antone, Austen Williams, and Hunter Lemke combined to pitch the final four innings for the Foresters. Lemke allowed the lone Halo run in the top of the ninth­­– just his fourth earned run allowed in 16 appearances this year.

“It felt great,” Lemke said of the win. “I was out here last summer, and was honored to be the last three outs on the mound today. It feels good.”

The win puts the Foresters into the CCL championship series with the L.A. Brewers. The three-game series will take place tomorrow and Sunday, with a tie-breaker game on Monday if needed.

The Foresters have struggled with the Brewers thus far – dropping two out of three games to Los Angeles earlier this season – and Lechich said that pitching performances will be crucial against the offensively-oriented Brewers.

“They’re a good hitting team,” Lechich said. “I’m pretty confident in our pitching staff to keep us in it and I know our guys can hit it.”