Santa Barbara High starting pitcher Bijan Palme wasn’t going to let anything or anyone keep him from posting a complete-game victory against crosstown rival San Marcos on Friday.
He started the seventh inning by getting the lead-off batter on a called third strike. On an infield pop up along the third baseline, Palme stormed off the mound, called off his teammates and made the catch for the second out. He then blew a fast ball past the next hitter for the final out and let out a roar as his teammates ran over to congratulate him after a 2-1 Dons win over the Royals at Eddie Mathews Field.
“I was not letting anyone else come in the game,” Bijan said of going into the seventh. “I told Wes (assistant coach Wes Warrecker), ‘If you come out (to the mound), I’m staying right here.’’’
Palme’s first complete-game performance gave the Dons (6-12 overall) their second straight one-run win over the Royals and evened their Channel League record to 3-3. San Marcos (13-5) suffered its fourth straight loss and fell to 3-2 in league.
“That seventh inning was huge, man,” said Palme, still pumped up after the game. “I was a little nervous. It was my first complete game ever. I just kept throwing strikes, kept pounding the zone. My teammates were doing an amazing job in the field. Tommy Holguin at shortstop made some outstanding plays. My team had my back the whole time and we got clutch hits from the offense. That’s what we’ve been missing all year. We finally got some clutch hits the last few games."
Swedish transfer student Linus Holmberg drove in the winning run for the second straight game. He singled home Nick Dallow with two outs in the fourth inning to break a 1-1 tie. Dallow reached first on a San Marcos throwing error and moved to second when Palme was hit by a pitch.
“That's two games in a row we’ve given up the winning run on a mistake,” San Marcos coach Jacob Pepper said. “It’s tough on the team. I’m hopeful our team is more resilient as we go into next week against Buena. Hopefully, they get more mentally tough.”
After losing five one-run games this season, Santa Barbara is riding high after back-to-back one-run wins. They beat the Royals 1-0 on Wednesday.
“We kept following the process,” Palme said of the team continuing to practice hard and staying confident during the losses. “We knew sooner or later it’s going to pay off for us.”
Santa Barbara coach Donny Warrecker explained that he likes to create a game-like atmosphere in practice and it’s made a difference.
“We need to create competition in practice so these guys get used to playing in the close games,” he said. “We’ve always felt that we’ve got a pretty good team. It’s just really nice to get the clutch pitching performance, great defense and the clutch hits.”
Warrecker credited Palme for improving his pitching fitness. The coach said Palme sent him a text following a loss against Dos Pueblos and told him he would get stronger to go farther in games.
“I’m glad to see it. This is exactly what we need this time of year,” said Warrecker. “He’s been getting stronger and stronger throughout the year. This was a clutch, gutty performance. I’m really happy for him.”
Palme said he had command of his fastball and focused on keeping his pitches low in the zone to make the Royals hit ground balls.
Shortstop Tommy Holguin played a stellar game at shortstop. He made a spectacular play in the sixth, gloving Kyle Gonzalez’s grounder behind the second-base bag and throwing him out. Center fielder Joe Firestone also made a big play in the sixth, running a long way to catch Ryan Guardino’s fly ball.”
“I think we have the best defense in the Channel League,” said Palme, who allowed one run on three hits while striking out seven and walking one.
“Their pitcher was tough,” said Pepper. “He mixed it up well enough. We hit a couple of balls fairly hard, but it was not enough to make up for the mistakes we had.”
San Marcos starter Ian Churchill gave up two runs on four hits, walked three and struck out seven in five innings. Vince Vogel allowed one hit in the sixth.
Santa Barbara jumped on Churchill for a run in the first inning. Holguin singled with one out and scored on Firestone’s double to the right-center field gap.
“For them to get a couple of hits off of Churchill, was big early on,” said Pepper.
San Marcos responded in the second. Guardino led off with a double to the fence in left field and he scored on a RBI single to left by Matt Neal.
Just like he did in Wednesday’s 1-0 win at San Marcos, Holmberg delivered a two-out hit to score game-winning run.
“We’re just on a roll right now,” said Holmberg of the close wins.
While he’s here from Sweden, Holmberg knows the importance of winning the rivalry games.
“First of all, it’s SM. You always want to win against SM, even me,” he said. “I’ve been here only one year and I really want to win against SM. It’s really easy being motivated playing with these guys.”