Many sports were forced to call a long timeout during the Year of COVID, but there were still plenty of headline news in the world of athletics.
Santa Barbara had a presence in major events ranging from the Super Bowl to the Major League Baseball playoffs, as well as in many local events in between.
FEB. 2 — Mitch Wishnowsky, a former SBCC punter from Australia, caps his rookie season with the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl LIV at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. Although the 49ers lose to Kansas City, 31-20, Wishnowsky gives them good field position with punts of 46 and 40 yards. He also makes a prophet out of SBCC coach Craig Moropoulos, who told the other Vaqueros of 2014 that, “There’s a great chance that you’ll be watching this guy on Sundays.”
FEB. 5 — Former UCSB star Gabe Vincent, recently acquired by the Miami Heat, has a breakout game with the NBA team by making a trio of three-pointers at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Clippers. Although a knee injury sidelines him during Miami’s run to the NBA Finals, he does accompany the team into the NBA bubble in Florida. “He fits so many of the things that we like … High character, super-hard work ethic,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra says. “He’s developed his game through a lot of sweat and hard work behind the scenes when no one was watching. We relate to guys like that. We’re fans of his and we’re excited to be able to develop him.”
FEB. 17— UCSB’s baseball team knocks the daylights out of Cal, 17-7, before an overflow crowd in the first night baseball game ever played at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium. The lights were installed during the offseason at a cost of $1.6 million. “We were really excited about the turnout we had tonight in the stands,” says coach Andrew Checketts, whose Gauchos won 13 of their 15 games before the COVID-19 pandemic ends their season prematurely. “There has been so much effort from a lot of people to make this stadium what it is today.” UCSB will begin two other athletic facility projects in November: the $5.25 million Arnhold Tennis Center and $3 million in Thunderdome enhancements, including a new practice court and retractable chairback seating.
MARCH 4 — The UCSB women’s basketball team finishes second in the Big West Conference regular season on Danae Miller’s buzzer-beating basket in the regular-season finale at Hawaii. “It takes a lot of confidence to take that shot … and live with the consequences,” coach Bonnie Henrickson observes. The Gaucho men will also finish in a tie for second place. But both teams will arrive at the league tournament just eight days later to learn that the postseason was being canceled by worsening COVID-19 pandemic.
APRIL 23 — Rick McLaughlin, who became the youngest head coach in the history of NCAA Division 1 volleyball when hired at Loyola Marymount in 1993, wins the first AVCA National Men’s Coach of the Year Award in UCSB history. His Gauchos were 14-2 and ranked No. 3 in the AVCA National Poll on March 12 when the season was cut short by COVID-19. “We knew this was going to be a big year with eight seniors on the team,” McLaughlin says. “This didn’t start just this year for this group — it started four years ago — and they were all in.”
MAY 8 — John Moore, who transferred to Westmont College to play basketball during the mid-1970s, announces that he is stepping down after 27 seasons as the Warriors’ head coach and turning the reins over to assistant Landon Boucher. Moore once called it, “the best job in America, and not just the best basketball job.” He also was one of the best to ever hold it, winning 558 games as well as this year’s NAIA National Coach of the Year Award. Westmont was 26-5 and the No. 7 overall seed for the NAIA Tournament when COVID-19 canceled the event. “My sole regret this season is that we were unable to compete in Kansas City, as it would have given us even more time together and one last chance to battle for a national championship,” Moore says.
JUNE 21 — Although summer baseball has been canceled throughout most of the country, Dos Pueblos High graduate Dustin Demeter finds a landing place in Oklahoma. Demeter — who hit an opening-day, walk-off home run for the University of Hawaii on Feb. 7 — hits another homer after joining Tulsa’s informal “Sandlot League.” His brother Davy is also on the team. “It’s like we’re back in high school,” Dustin says. “The teams are thrown together and it’s a pretty fun league.”
JULY 1 – Although the 10-team California Collegiate League has called off its season, the Santa Barbara Foresters open play as an independent team with a 12-3 rout at Pershing Park over the Inland Empire Buccaneers. Third-generation Forester Bryce Warrecker, fresh off the pitcher’s mound at Santa Barbara High, strikes out five of the six batters he faces. “We fought so hard to get back on the field, but we have to do it under safe conditions,” Bill Pintard says while starting his 26th season as head coach. “It’s the first time I’ve ever ordered face masks as part of the uniform package, and they’re not catcher’s masks.”
AUG. 10 — The Foresters win a record eighth championship at the National Baseball Congress World Series by thumping the Cheney, Kan. Diamond Dawgs 12-3 in Wichita, Kan. It completes a 33-4 season for the summer collegiate club. “I’ve been coaching the Foresters for a long time, and this team was as good in all facets of the game as any I’ve ever had,” Pintard says. “It was a remarkable finish to a remarkable year. This year was crazy, but we were able to find some kind of normalcy.”
AUG. 25 — Chicago White Sox catcher James McCann, a 2008 graduate of Dos Pueblos High School, catches a no-hitter pitched by close friend Lucas Giolito. The ace pitcher was quick to credit McCann’s pitch-calling for his 4-0 gem against the Pittsburgh Pirates. “Just where I’m at in my career,” McCann says, “and doing it with a guy like Lucas, who I have such a special connection with, is something that… I just don’t know what to say. It’s pretty special.” They would lead the White Sox to the A.L. playoffs, but McCann would sign a free-agent contract during the offseason and join another Santa Barbara native, Jeff McNeil, with the New York Mets.
SEPT 14 — The UCSB men’s and women’s basketball teams are finally allowed to begin workouts, although with COVID-19 restrictions which include no indoor training. The Gauchos respond by setting up portable basketball hoops and weight-lifting machines on the tennis courts next to the Intercollegiate Athletics Building. “I’m trying to avoid getting tan lines,” women’s coach Bonnie Henrickson says, “but I’ll take them if it means being around the team again.”
OCT. 18 — Former San Marcos High star Thayer White wins his first City Golf Championship, sinking a 30-foot birdie putt on the second sudden-death playoff hole to defeat 2008 champion Brandon Gama. It completes his six-year comeback from injuries he suffered during a vicious attack in Berkeley. Thayer had to relearn how to read, write and speak — as well as play golf — after having been hit over the head with a baseball bat. Even Gama could appreciate the poignancy of the moment, saying, “Knowing what he’s been through and to be where he is right now and do what he’s doing, it’s pretty remarkable. I’m proud of him. Today he’s a champion.”
NOV. 10 — Although all high school sports have been put on hold by the pandemic, the reconstruction of Santa Barbara High’s Peabody Stadium is finally completed. The stadium, first built in 1924, is officially unveiled during a media tour to show off the $39 million project. “It’s breathtaking,” SBHS principal Elise Simmons says. “There are these moments when I just catch myself going, ‘I can’t believe I’m the principal of this beautiful school and this Peabody Stadium.’”
NOV. 11 — Former UCSB pitcher Shane Bieber, a fourth-round draft pick of the Cleveland Indians just four years earlier, becomes only the seventh player in history to be a unanimous pick for the American League’s Cy Young Award. He got the first-place vote on all 30 ballots cast by the Baseball Writers Association of America after leading the A.L. in victories (eight), strikeouts (122), and earned run average (1.63). “Honestly, it was just a great time to be able to get the season in with so much uncertainty going around the league and nation,” Bieber said. “Just being able to get that season in and be able to do what we did as a club was special.”
NOV. 29 — UCSB opens its men’s basketball season two weeks late and without spectators, but the obstacles created by the pandemic can’t prevent the Gauchos from romping to a 92-55 victory over Saint Katherine. “It definitely affected the play a little bit,” junior Amadou Sow says of the empty Thunderdome, “but we’ve just got to come out and play hard and find our own energy.”
DEC. 16 — Deacon Hill’s senior season may be on pause, but Santa Barbara High’s record-setting quarterback still takes a big step in his football career by signing a national letter of intent with Wisconsin. “At the end of the day, it just came down to what would make me a better person and a better football player, and that’s Wisconsin,” Hill says.
DEC. 17 — Although SBCC pulls the plug on all fall sports, its Board of Trustees gives football coach Craig Moropoulos an early Christmas present as consolation by approving a $1.5 million project to replace the deteriorating synthetic turf at La Playa Stadium. “Especially coming at this time, it was very much needed,” Moropoulos says. “It’s a great way to finish off 2020.”