Too many things can go wrong when the ball is put into play, so Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters manager Bill Pintard builds his bullpen around pitchers who don’t let it happen very often.
Santa Barbara and the NJCAA national team played similarly Friday night until it was time to drive in runs. The Foresters came through more often, while their pitchers consistently escaped jams with strikeouts.
Four Foresters pitchers stranded 12 runners, and several NJCAA national team players went down without making contact as Santa Barbara won 6-1 in the semifinals of the National Baseball Congress World Series at Lawrence-Dumont Stadium.
Santa Barbara, the NBC champion in 2008, 2011 and 2012, advances to its sixth championship game since 2003.
In Friday’s second semifinal, the defending champion Seattle Studs beat the Hays Larks 2-0 as Scott Kuzminsky pitched a three-hit shutout.
“Everybody talks about pitching to contact and all that stuff,” Pintard said. “I believe that if you’re a starter, but late in the game you can’t let them have contact. Even though it’s 6-1, that’s Team USA over there. We don’t want to give them any momentum.”
Seven of Santa Barbara’s nine strikeouts came with men on base, and six came with at least one in scoring position. That trend began with Foresters starter Jon Duplantier, a right-hander from Rice University and Santa Barbara’s ace.
Duplantier struggled to command the off-speed pitches that supplement a fastball that can reach 95 mph. He allowed five hits, a walk and hit a batter through five-plus innings but left before a run scored against him because he was able to find an effective mix.
Duplantier’s curveball became stronger throughout his outing, so he used it to establish a change of speeds. He struck out Alex Lee with two runners on in the first inning, recorded a pair of strikeouts with two runners on in the second, and got out of the fourth with a strikeout two batters after hitting David Petrino.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, and his pitch count (97) was up, because usually he throws more strikes,” Pintard said of Duplantier. “But he pitched tonight. He knew what he could and what he couldn’t use at certain times. That’s the mark of a pitcher. He’s shown tremendous maturity this summer.”
NJCAA national team pitching never discovered a reliable formula for escaping trouble. Five relievers combined for one strikeout as the Foresters steadily broke open the game, turning a 2-0 lead into a five-run cushion by scoring two in the seventh and two more in the eighth.
The tying run was on-deck as the NJCAA national team loaded the bases with one out before Pintard summoned Troy Cruz, a hard-throwing right-hander, from the bullpen.
Cruz recorded – what else – a strikeout to transfer pressure from himself to his opponent, before the game ended on a groundout.
“Every time we get our pitchers in a tight situation, we know they can come through,” Santa Barbara third baseman Bret Boswell said. “They’ve been throwing strikes all season. We trust them and know that they’re going to do what they do.”
Seattle 2, Hays 0 – The defending champion advanced to its third straight championship game behind a shutout from Scott Kuzminsky and a ninth-inning home run that didn’t matter to the outcome but may have deflated the Larks.
Seattle was operating solely on the unearned run it scored in the fourth inning as Kuzminsky rolled through the Hays lineup. Then, in the ninth, Bobby LeCount lined a homer to left field to weaken Hays’ comeback chances — chances that didn't materialize despite a two-out walk.
The closest the Larks came to breaking through against Kuzminsky didn’t even result in a Hays baserunner. In the bottom of the eighth, Evan Gruener flew out to the edge of the warning track in right-center. Hays eventually got a runner to second in the eighth, but Thomas Clay struck out to end the inning. Kuzminsky allowed three hits.
Seattle has three runner-up finishes since 2008, including two against Santa Barbara.
NBC World Series
The tournament concludes with Saturday night’s 6 p.m. championship game and fireworks. The Santa Barbara (Calif.) Foresters will try for a fourth title against the defending champion Seattle Studs.