The San Luis Obispo Blues-Santa Barbara Foresters rivalry took a violent turn Thursday night.
In the bottom of the third inning, former Paso Robles High standout Thomas Bernal stood in the batter’s box, took a pitch off his back and, before he made his way to first, exchanged a few words with Foresters catcher Jared Womack.
A few words turned into shoves, which then escalated into an old-fashioned fistfight.
The two teams poured out of the dugout as a brawl broke loose in the center of the diamond, resulting in two ejections and warnings to both dugouts. However, when the dust settled, it was the Foresters (25-8, 17-8 California Collegiate League) who got the last laugh, beating the Blues 6-4 in a summer collegiate baseball game at SLO Stadium.
“We were chasing runs and you can’t do that against a good club,” Blues manager Chal Fanning said. “We got our momentum back and we were throwing zeroes, and then we gave up those two runs late. You just can’t do that.”
In the brawl, there were multiple punches thrown, plenty of shoves and audible cursing as the umpires tried to break up the melee. The two players at the center, Bernal and Womack, were both ejected, and Fanning said there will be no additional penalties to any of his players.
“It wasn’t intentional; it’s just baseball,” Fanning said. “It was handled by both sides, it’s over with. You just play the rest of the game. I think that’s what good professional clubs do.”
It’s hardly the first time the two teams have played beanball. Earlier this year, during the Blues’ only win against the Foresters, 10-4 on June 17, Bernal was nailed three times on three pitches. In that three-game series, a total of 13 batters were nailed.
“There has always been good juice between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara,” Foresters manager Bill Pintard said. “I’m sure the fans enjoy it.”
That trend continued Thursday as four batters were hit. After two errors on two pitches put the Blues (23-10, 14-9 CCL) down 1-0 with no outs in the first inning, Blues starter Dylan Mendoza nailed Jeff McVany in the back, and then later hit former Nipomo High Jeff McNeil, who couldn’t make it to first base before trainers came out, in the top of the third.
“I don’t condone that, and I know coach Pintard doesn’t,” Fanning said. “But that’s part of the stuff these guys have to learn. I don’t expect anything more, but it will be a good couple of games when Santa Barbara comes up next time.”
The Blues had their share of hit batsmen as well. Other than Bernal, right fielder Tanner Witt got nailed in the fifth.
But even with the extra baserunners, the Blues couldn’t capitalize.
The Foresters scored two runs in the first and one run in the top of the third to take a 3-0 lead before RBI singles from Chad Christiansen and Zac Elgie pulled the Blues within 3-2 in the bottom of the third.
The Foresters answered in the fourth when a wild pitch brought home a run to extend the lead to 4-2.
Sal Belfonte made it 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh, when he came home after a ball skipped past catcher Tyler Pearson.
With the Blues trailing 6-3 heading into the ninth, Belfonte hit a RBI double to left center to make it 6-4, but the Foresters were able to hold on for their third win over the Blues this season.
The loss puts the Blues two games behind the Foresters in the CCL standings. They will have two more chances against Santa Barbara as the Foresters return to SLO Stadium next week for a two-game series Wednesday and Thursday.
Despite the fight, Fanning said emotions won’t be running any higher in the series.
“The rivalry’s always been serious,” Fanning said. “It’s just one of those things. It’s been like that since the Blues and the Foresters have been playing back in the ’90s. That’s what makes for good rivalries. That is what makes this league good. You want that.”