Behind the strong performance of a pitcher who helped Mississippi State to the College World Series, the San Luis Obispo Blues kept their California Collegiate League title hopes alive Thursday with a 5-1 win over the Santa Barbara Foresters.
Facing a must-win game, the Blues got a dominant home-field performance from starter Trevor Fitts, who’s coming off a relief appearance for national runner-up Mississippi State in the College World Series against UCLA in the title matchup.
On Thursday at SLO Stadium, Fitts struck out 12 in seven scoreless innings to record the win and keep the possibility of a CCL title open for at least one more day for his team.
“My coach from Mississippi State wanted me to come out here and work on my fastball,” Fitts said. “I was just trying to hit both sides of the plate with it and then come with the slider. I gotta say our catcher, Daniel Garner, called a great game. I shook off his signs twice in the game, and one of those times a guy got a hit off me.”
The Blues (37-16, 21-14) and Foresters (32-14, 21-14) are knotted atop the CCL’s North Division.
Both teams have one regular-season game at their respective home fields remaining tonight.
The Blues face the Conejo Oaks at 6 p.m. at SLO Stadium. They must win while Santa Barbara must fall to the Santa Paula Halos for San Luis Obispo to move on to the weekend championship series against the the Los Angeles Brewers, the South Division champ.
If the Blues end up in second, they’ll face the South’s secondplace team, which has yet to be determined, in a playoff series this weekend.
Fitts entered with a 1-2 record this summer and an earned run average hovering around 6.0. He recalled a bad outing against the Foresters earlier this season and said he came out motivated and firing Thursday.
The 6-foot-2 righty, who struck out five of Santa Barbara’s first six hitters, combined with other Blues pitchers for 16 strikeouts.
In the sixth inning, Fitts also struck out the heart of the Foresters’ order with the bases loaded and no outs.
“The umpire was giving me a few calls a little off the plate, so I was working that,” Fitts said. “Garner wanted another fastball off the plate against (Santa Barbara’s top hitter) Louie Lechich, but I used the slow curve to get him to chase.”
The Blues opened the scoring when Cal Poly standout Jimmy Allen picked up where he left off Wednesday with an RBI single to right in the first frame. He finished the night 2 for 4.
Left fielder Mike Pritchard, the Blues’ leading hitter on the season, went 2 for 2 with a run and an RBI.
One of his hits sparked a controversy after he drove in a run on a single to center, and then third baseman Blake Allemand, trying to score from second, was called out on a tag at the plate.
San Luis Obispo coach Chal Fanning came sprinting from the third-base coach’s box to argue the call with home plate umpire Chuck Bradley, slamming his helmet against the ground in the process.
Fanning had an extended argument with Bradley for the second straight night after a heated conversation Wednesday over a questionable call on an out at first.
“From where I was, I could clearly see space between the glove and Allemand,” Fanning said.
“It’s unfortunate that on back-to-back nights that happened. Chuck Bradley is a good man and a good umpire. I just had to let him know.”
The inning ended when Pritchard was thrown out stealing, and the Blues came away with just one run in the third and a 2-0 lead. Pritchard said that he checked his swing on his base hit up the middle for the RBI.
“It was a changeup, and I didn’t really want to swing, but I checked up and got the barrel on it and it went right up the middle,” Pritchard said. “I’ll take it.”
The Blues tacked onto their lead by notching three more runs in the sixth for a 5-0 lead, highlighted by an RBI single by catcher Garner, and a sacrifice fly from Cuesta College’s Zach Domingues, who got the start Thursday at second base.
“That sixth inning was the key inning for us because Fitts shut them down, and then we go get those three runs,” Fanning said. “They could have gotten a hit and started a party, but we held them and then got the three in our half.”
Fanning said that he hopes a large crowd will come tonight to celebrate a fireworks show and give the Blues a boost to end the season.
“We’ll owe it to the fans to close out strong,” Fanning said.