The Santa Barbara Foresters are too good of a baseball team to go without playing for some kind of a championship.
They’ll get their chance after completing a 28-game homestand Friday with a 7-5 come-from-behind victory over the Southern California Giants at Pershing Park.
Christian Encarnacion was the offensive star. He belted a two-run homer to tie the score at 5-5 in the sixth and hit a game-winning two-run double in the seventh.
After winning their 12th straight and finishing 25-3 at home, the Foresters hit the road for the first time on Saturday, playing at the San Manuel Stadium in San Bernardino in the Best of the West Tournament. They’ll then fly to Wichita, Kan., to play in the 86th National Baseball Congress World Series.
The Foresters are seven-time NBC World Series champions. They accepted an invitation to the double-elimination tournament, which this year has been reduced to 13 teams due to so many teams around the country losing their seasons because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Santa Barbara received the top seed and begins play on Tuesday night against the winner of a first-round game between the Rose Hills Sluggers of Kansas and the Denver Cougars.
Santa Barbara is the lone West Coast team in the tournament. Six teams are from Kansas, three from Texas, two from Colorado and one from Mississippi.
“This is a team — and you can see with all the scouts here every night — that is one of the best teams in the country,” said longtime Foresters manager Bill Pintard. “We decided to go to Wichita.”
Pintard expressed his gratitude that the Foresters were able to play a season during the pandemic.
“I’m just so grateful to the City of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara City College and the city attorneys,” he said. “They had faith in us that we were going to do it the right way.”
Among the guidelines the team had to follow: fans were not allowed at the games, players had to wear masks if they weren’t playing and social distancing was required in the dugout.
“We’re very grateful, and we were diligent in what we were trying to do,” Pintard said. “It was an honor (to coach this team). These guys had the summer of their lives. They are one of the best teams in the country. We’re ranked No. 2 in the country by ‘D1 Baseball’ and ‘Baseball America.’
“These players wouldn’t have had this summer together if it wasn’t for the city and the generosity of Ed St. George to house these guys.”
The Foresters jumped on the Giants in the first inning as lead-off batter Matt McLain homered.
But the Giants, a team comprised primarily of recent high school graduates who signed with major college baseball programs, came back and scored two runs in the fifth off starter Derek True and three off DJ Contreras in the sixth to take a 5-1 lead.
The Foresters’ offense got rolling in the sixth. With McLain at third and Jace Jung at second, Noah Cardenas hit a grounder to the right side to score McLain. Ryan Holgate hit a two-out ground-rule double to bring home Jace Jung to make it 5-3. Encarnacion followed with his two-run blast over the center-field fence to tie the score.
The homer gave Encarnacion the team lead with nine, which puts him two shy of tying the single-season record.
“If he has a good Wichita, he’ll set the single season record in a month,” said Pintard of the Oklahoma State-bound slugger. “He has tremendous power and he comes to play every day,”
Titus Groeneweg took the mound in the seventh and cooled off the Giants. Jack Cunningham finished things off in the ninth.