As the Major Leaguers took a second day off following Tuesday’s All-Star Game, there was no such break for the California Collegiate League less than 24 hours after the San Luis Obispo Blues and the Northern All-Stars played the Santa Barbara Foresters and the Southern team in a summer collegiate baseball showcase Wednesday night.
The Blues hopped right on their bus following the 4-4, 11-inning tie and drove straight out of Compton back to San Luis Obispo, where they renewed their Central Division rivalry with the Foresters on Thursday at SLO Stadium.
While the visitors exhibited some early post-All-Star sluggishness, committing four costly errors in the first two innings, the hometown Blues looked poised to challenge for the division lead, pulling within 3 1⁄2 games of Santa Barbara with an 8-4 victory.
“I’m not playing and I’m tired,” said San Luis Obispo head coach Chal Fanning of the quick turnaround. “We’re all tired, but I’m proud of the guys that went down there. They showed up, and we outplayed Santa Barbara.”
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San Luis Obispo loaded the bases in each of the first two innings and didn’t come away empty handed, giving starting pitcher Dakota Hudson a five-run cushion that he carried into the fifth.
The Mississippi State right-hander didn’t allow a hit through the first four innings, but the Foresters got to him in the next frame.
After a walk, a hit batter and two strikeouts, Jaylin Davis sliced a two-run triple down the right-field line and Ford Stainback followed with a double to center to pull Santa Barbara within 5-3.
Hudson hit his third batter of the game on the first pitch following Stainback’s hit, and Fanning lifted him in favor of Cal State Fullerton’s Max Gibbs. The side-armed lefty struck out All-Star Granger Studdard on a full-count pitch to get out of the inning.
Hudson finished with six strikeouts and four walks, falling one out shy of getting credited with the win.
“We needed that start,” Fanning said. “If we don’t get that start and we give them any kind of energy, maybe they come out on top.”
San Luis Obispo pushed its lead back to four with a pair of runs in the sixth, when Taylor Anderson turned his leadoff walk into a run by scoring on a wild pitch four batters later.
Connor O’Hare followed with a broken-bat bloop single to center that scored Austin O’Brien. “It’s been a busy few days; a lot of time on the road and a lot of time on the field,” said Anderson, an All-Star who reached base four times Thursday and scored twice. “You’ve just got to treat it like a normal day; come out, have fun and play as hard as you can.”
UCLA 6-foot-9 right-hander Tucker Forbes got the win, starting the sixth inning and striking out five Foresters against just one hit in two innings.
After a leadoff single by Jeff Moberg in the eighth, Santa Barbara walked the next three batters for San Luis Obispo’s final run of the game.
“Scoring some runs late was huge,” Fanning said. “They put that 3-spot up and started getting excited, so I’m glad we tacked on late.”
The Blues (31-10, 20-9) quickly jumped out to a 4-0 lead thanks to first-inning throwing errors by second baseman Stainback and shortstop Dillon Dobson that scored two runs each. Two more low throws by Dobson in the next inning couldn’t be corralled by Studdard at first, the second of which scored Moberg from third.
Dobson, whose bat had given the Blues trouble in earlier meetings, was pulled from the game and finished just 0 for 1 with a strikeout at the plate.
This was just the second time in six tries San Luis Obispo triumphed over Santa Barbara, with both wins coming at home. The only two teams with 20 or more CCL wins host each other once more this season before heading into the CCL Tournament, which the Blues will host starting July 31.
Kenny Chapman took the loss for Santa Barbara (29-8, 24-6), lasting just 3 2/3 innings while allowing five runs – all unearned – five walks, four hits and one hit batter. He struck out six. A total of 13 Foresters and nine Blues were named to the All-Star Game, with both coaches also appearing on the benches of their respective clubs.
While the majority of the field players who appeared in Wednesday’s exhibition took to the diamond Thursday, San Luis Obispo first baseman Jacob Hoyle — who leads the CCL in RBI (25) and doubles (nine) — was forced to sit out with a hamstring injury.
Fanning said Hoyle is day-to-day, and the Blues were able to take advantage of a few early errors and score some insurance runs late to get the job done in his first game out.
“I challenged these guys,” Fanning said. “They got to 30 wins, so I said, ‘Shoot for 40 now.’ That’s a tough thing to do in summer baseball, but there’s a chance we could be playing for No. 40 (on July 26) at Santa Barbara.
“We’ve got to take care of business this weekend before thinking about Santa Barbara … but we needed this win to gain some ground.”