The Healdsburg Prune Packers have the best record in the California Collegiate League, but the Walnut Creek Crawdads have not lost since June 11 and that unbeaten streak did not fold in the face of a seemingly indomitable foe.
The Prune Packers have six players in their lineup hitting above .300 in CCL action this season, but the Walnut Creek pitchers squeezed their way out of jams to minimize Healdsburg’s potent offense. The Crawdads (14-3-1, 8-3 CCL) only had two extra-base hits against the Prune Packers (19-2, 12-2 CCL), but a couple wild pitches and some timely hitting was enough to take the first game of the series, winning 5-2.
Walnut Creek starting pitcher Jackson Flora made his last start of the summer for the Crawdads on Tuesday and he knew all the eyes would be on him. Flora has been a Loyola Marymount commit since his freshman year of high school, but he has reopened his recruitment and Pac-12 coaches from Oregon and Cal Berkely were in attendance to check out the Foothill graduate. Flora was originally scheduled to pitch three innings, but he was efficient with his 36 pitches and it convinced manager Brant Cummings to keep him out there for the fourth inning.
Flora allowed four straight baserunners to start the fourth, allowing a run without recording an out. Cummings had newly-added Crawdad Ryan Rissas warm in the bullpen, but Flora was able to escape the bases-loaded jam, allowing one more run and keeping the ballgame tied at two apiece.
On the other side, Healdsburg starting pitcher Wyatt Tucker had four strikeouts in 4 ⅓ innings, but poor defense from the Prune Packers pinned the loss on the starter even though two of his three runs allowed were unearned. The Crawdads took the lead in the fifth inning off a Healdsburg error and did not look back with Walnut Creek relief pitcher Dylan McShane on the mound.
McShane only pitched one inning with the Crawdads entering Tuesday, but the reliever gave Walnut Creek three innings of work against the Prune Packers. Pitching deeper into games has been a focus for McShane and he was able to do that to hold the lead for the Crawdads.
“It’s something that I have been trying to do,” McShane said. “Trying to grow in and extend my outings. That’s always something to improve upon. It’s something I did at Oregon. Not too much, but obviously the more I can improve my game and go longer into games, the more valuable I become to the team.”
A big reason why McShane won Player of the Game was because of what he was able to do in the eighth inning. With the bases loaded and no outs, the Duck wiggled out of the jam without allowing a run to keep a three-run lead for the Crawdads. McShane struggled to start the inning, but he stayed confident and was able to clean up his mess.
“It comes to staying with what you know and trusting your preparation,” McShane said. “It’s kind of the process to get to the point where you earn that confidence to know you should have confidence in a situation like that. Everything is always in your control. There are things you can’t control and you can’t worry about those things. Just happy to have the opportunity today and make the most of them everytime.”
Walnut Creek is fortunate that the top of the lineup did not appear in either the fourth or eighth inning. Healdsburg center fielder Robbie Hamchuk had four hits in the leadoff spot, but he never had runners in scoring position in those at-bats. Conversely, Healdsburg left fielder Will Hodo was hitting .647 in CCL play before Tuesday, but he did not get a hit in his five at-bats and struck out twice in the game.
The Crawdads earned a huge victory against the Prune Packers to begin a three-game series, but they now turn their attention to potentially winning the series with the next game back at Monte Vista High School on Wednesday. Walnut Creek certainly respects the talent that Healdsburg has, but the ‘Dads are not afraid of the Packers as the two sit atop the CCL North division.
“They’re a good club, so are a lot of the teams we play in the summer,” McShane said. “We know obviously that we are a good club too. We’ve got guys who are good at various different things and we all have trust in each other in our abilities. Playing with one another and trusting in one another. It’s just playing team baseball.”