The task: Beat Team Vegas.
The San Luis Obispo Blues completed that task twice before Thursday night’s finale of the three-game series against the summer collegiate baseball club.
But there was a big problem: Stephen Manthei, a recent College World Series champion.
In a rare complete game, the Arizona pitcher handcuffed San Luis Obispo batters for most of the night in a 2-1 win at SLO Stadium — killing the Blues’ first real chance at earning an outright California Collegiate League championship.
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Manthei, a 6-foot-1, 210-pound right-hander, didn’t allow an earned run, while giving up five hits and two walks in nine innings, striking out five batters.
“He’s been in big situations,” Team Vegas manager Buck Thomas said about Manthei, whose Wildcats beat South Carolina for the college national title in late June. “When it’s time to go and get after it, he’s the go-to guy.”
It’s now up to Team Vegas to determine if the Blues (33-14, 20-10 CCL) will get an outright league title — which would make them the first team other than the Santa Barbara Foresters to do since 2002, according to San Luis Obispo manager Chal Fanning.
Team Vegas can do the Blues a favor by winning just one game against the Foresters in a three-game series that begins today.
“Now we need to be their biggest fans,” Fanning said of Team Vegas. “All they have to do is beat Santa Barbara once and we’re outright champs. It’d be special for this program, for these kids who played hard all summer, the fans that have supported us.“It’d be special for everyone that has put into this summer.”
Against Team Vegas, the Blues fell behind early. Jerod Smith produced a standup RBI double in the third before Bryce Greager got an RBI triple in the following inning to put Team Vegas ahead 2-0.
San Luis Obispo responded in the bottom of the fourth, when Taylor Anderson, who got on base on an error, scored on an RBI double by Tanner Donnels.
One of the Blues’ few scoring chances happened in the sixth, when Alex Detz — a former Mission Prep and Cuesta College standout — led off the inning with a double. He later advanced to third on a fielder’s choice, but the Blues grounded out and popped out twice.
“It’s one of those games, not a lot of hitting,” Detz said, referring to the Blues’ five hits. “Our pitchers did a great job, both of them. Their guy (Manthei) did a great job, too. It was one of those pitchers’ battle. We didn’t get enough hits.”
Keegan Dale went 2 for 3 for San Luis Obispo, which reached base only once in the final three innings.
Pitcher Will Cox started for the Blues, finishing with eight strikeouts in seven innings before Chase Greene came in to relieve and struck out three.
Team Vegas finished with six hits and committed two errors.
For the Blues, their CCL season is over. They will wrap up the regular season with a three-game series against the San Luis Obispo Rattlers starting today at 6 p.m. at SLO Stadium. And then they’ll begin their journey at the National Baseball Congress World Series in Wichita, Kan., on Tuesday.
Anyone who buys raffle tickets at today’s game will be entered to win a pair of San Francisco Giants-Washington Nationals tickets as part of the Blues’ Road to Wichita fundraiser.
At the same time, the Blues will also have the series between Team Vegas and the Foresters on their minds.
“The worst thing that can happen is Santa Barbara sweeps and they’re co-champs,” Fanning said. “We have some things in our favor. I think (Team Vegas is) going to get them a game.”