Carter Park didn’t mince words.
“We aren’t as good as we thought we were,” the Santa Barbara High senior said.
Moments earlier, he was ready to douse whomever drove in the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Tied 1-1 as darkness crept onto Eddie Mathews Field, Anthony Firestone opened the inning with a walk. Three pitches later, Firestone was on third after Bryce Warrecker laced a single into right field.
Warrecker would advance to second uncontested, giving Santa Barbara three chances to score the winning run with no outs.
But Chase Hoover had other ideas.
The sophomore lefty showed no signs of being rattled, striking out the Dons’ Nos. 4-6 hitters to secure a 1-1 tie in the Channel League opener for both teams.
“I’ve waited to do this my whole life,” Hoover said.
Did he feel nerves as he trotted to the mound in the fourth inning, replacing Henry Manfredonia?
“I was not nervous going into it, I was extremely focused and extremely ready to go do that,” Hoover said.
Hoover and Manfredonia — normally the Royals’ two starters, but the team only had one game this week — combined to strike out 15.
“Chase has been doing that all year,” San Marcos coach Jacob Pepper said. “The kid probably has close to 40 strikeouts and he’s only pitched in four games. His ball is tough to hit, he works hard. He’s playing hard and staying in his own lane with guy like Henry, a junior, who is staying in his own lane and his own path. It’s a lot of fun to have that.”
Santa Barbara coach Steve Schuck lamented that his ball club, despite being known for hitting the long ball, spends plenty of time working on situational execution — something that failed them in the seventh inning.
“We spend so much time on making the right swings in the right situation, we just didn’t get it done today,” Schuck said. “It’s a lesson that we will learn without a loss, so we can walk away knowing that we need to get better, but nothing is in the loss column.”
Park was outstanding for the home team, working six innings a week after he said that he was all over the place.
“I didn’t have a good outing last week, I just wasn’t throwing strikes, but I felt really good all week,” Park said.
Schuck was impressed by Park’s composure, showing growth from his junior campaign that saw the hurler wear his emotions on his sleeve.
“He really stayed calm, and we are seeing more and more of that,” Schuck said. “In big games like this, you need that in your pitcher. Carter was really big for us today.”
The Dons gave Park a 1-0 lead in the second inning, with Ty Montgomery doubling down the left-field line and coming around to score on a single by Owen Keithley.
San Marcos would knot things up in the fifth inning after they worked the bases loaded and scoring after Manfredonia was hit by a pitch.
While Pepper and his squad were ecstatic to come away with the tie in what the coach labeled as a “hostile environment,” Schuck said it was important for his team to realize one thing.
“The wolf that is climbing the mountain is always hungrier than the wolf at the top,” Schuck said. “We can’t get comfortable, we have to stay hungry.”