Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters center fielder Brett Vertigan prides himself on being aggressive on the basepaths. The Foresters' leadoff hitter, he's got speed and he tries to take advantage of every situation.
And it was his decision to head for third in the bottom of the first inning on a bunt by teammate Jeff McNeil that played a major role in the National Baseball Congress World Series' championship game on Saturday night at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
By heading to third when Kenai Peninsula (Alaska) Oilers pitcher Jordan Mills struggled to field a bunt up the first-base line, Vertigan put himself into position to score the game's only run.
In a game that turned into an odd sort of pitchers duel, Santa Barbara beat Kenai 1-0 to win the NBC title. Santa Barbara also won titles in 2006 and 2008.
"I really expected to see a higher-scoring game, after scoring in the first," Vertigan said. "With all that action in the first, I really expected it to be a different game. It's all a blur now. It feels great."
Santa Barbara coach Bill Pintard agreed.
"We won big in this tournament and we won small, like tonight, 1-0," Pintard said. "We finished undefeated. It's really sweet."
Neither team managed much offense; each had four hits.
Santa Barbara pitcher Mitch Mormann, who redshirted at Wichita State in the spring, got the win. He threw 7 innings, giving up four hits, one walk and striking out four in the shutout. Spenser Messmore relieved him in the eighth and struck out the game's final two batters looking.
"My fastball is my best pitch, and I was able to locate it on both sides of the plate," Mormann said. "Late in the game I was able to throw my changeup and slider for strikes, so that obviously helped out."
Kenai would have needed to beat Santa Barbara twice because the Foresters came into the title game of the double-elimination tournament undefeated. That meant the Oilers could have played four games in three days, a tough proposition for any pitching staff this late in the tournament. Santa Barbara didn't play on Friday.
Kenai coach Dennis Machado decided after the semifinal Friday night that he would go with an all-staff pitching plan — no Kenai pitcher threw more than one inning Saturday.
"Our approach to today's game was kind of out of necessity," Machado said. "We didn't have a starter to go in any of these games today, so we have a lot of guys in the bullpen who are very capable.
"What we decided to do was run one guy out for three outs at a time. Their whole focus was three outs. They did a great job holding the Foresters down to four hits."
Kenai threw eight pitchers and only Mills, the starter, faced more than four batters.
Vertigan led off the bottom of the first inning with a single up the middle. Then Mills dove to field McNeil's fast-moving bunt up the first-baseline and tried to shovel it to first baseman Troy Channing.
But McNeil was safe and Vertigan advanced to third. On Jeff McVaney's high bouncer to second base, Vertigan scored from third.
"We took advantage of some small ball that we did at the beginning of the game, and we got 'er done," Pintard said.
Kenai's best opportunity to even the score came in the seventh after Patrick Wisdom led off with a single and Channing was hit by a Mormann pitch. With runners on first and third, Stephen Branca hit a sharp liner.
But Branca's hit was right at Foresters first baseman James Wharton, who made the catch and stepped on first for the double play.
"We had something going," Mike Miller said. "(Mormann) was on the ropes a little. I don't know if he was rattled or not, but he was struggling a little bit, getting a little tired. (Branca) hit the ball hard. You can't ask for Stephen to do anything else. It was just right at someone.
"It was heartbreaking."
Kenai (Alaska) 000 000 000 — 0 4 1 Santa Barbara (Calif.) 100 000 000 — 1 4 0
W—Mormann. L—Mills. S—Messmore.
Kenai batting: Miller 1-4, Mallory 0-4, Wisdom 1-4, Channing 1-3, Rust 0-3, Branca 0-3, McChesney 1-3, Reyes 0-0, Collins 0-3, Ring 0-2.
Santa Barbara batting: Vertigan 1-2, McNeil 1-4, McVaney 2-4, Wharton 0-3, Ratterree 0-3, Legg 0-2, Wallace 0-3, Pearson 0-2, Kroker 0-3.
Kenai pitching: Mills 1-1, Blum 1-0, Salles 1-0, Winkelman 1-0, McVey 1-0, McGraw 1-0, Mannara 1-0, Kendrick 1-0.
Santa Barbara pitching: Mormann 7-0, Messmore 2-0.