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by Justin de Haas

The Walnut Creek Crawdads have another matchup against the Healdsburg Prune Packers on Thursday and that was evident with the way the lineup looked in a non league game against the Game Prep Trojans on Wednesday.

Walnut Creek center fielder Casey Cummings, first baseman Joey Donnelly and shortstop Matt King only played the first five innings. Crawdads’ second baseman Ryan Ellis, who leads the team with a .429 batting average and seven doubles, only played the last four innings after replacing King in the lineup. The best players in the Walnut Creek lineup did not play the whole game, but it did not matter as the Crawdads still defeated the Game Prep Trojans 12-2 at Monte Vista.

Most of the damage came from the bottom half of the lineup via Walnut Creek catcher Sam Gilliam and third baseman Max Farfan each hitting a home run, with the latter’s dinger being a grand slam to give the Crawdads a seven-run lead in the third inning. King was a beneficiary of both homers, scoring two runs in the process while also going 3-3 before he was replaced by Ellis. 

Despite the load management, the lineup was able to give Walnut Creek starting pitcher Nate Nordell plenty of run support to get his first win of the season. This was Nordell’s first start of the season as he has only been used out of the bullpen, but he was able to give the Crawdads some length as he went four innings and allowed two earned runs to garner Player of the Game honors.

“It’s been a long time since I last started,” Nordell said. “I had my first start last year on the Crawdads. It didn’t go as well. I gave up a couple home runs to start the first inning. Today, I just wanted to go out here and have a better approach. Let my defense work, let the offense work and it did just that. Just building the arm back up. I didn’t throw a lot this past year, so I’m still getting the arm strength back up and it’s getting there.”

Nordell had a 7.50 ERA in three appearances against non league teams this season, but he was able to turn his fortune around in this one. The Walnut Creek bullpen also had similar success, with relief pitchers Jackson Howell, Austin Berggren and Kody Perry combining for six strikeouts and no earned runs in five innings. The bullpen also faced load management with top relievers like closer Cade Cushing unavailable, but there is a sense of confidence around the clubhouse that whoever Walnut Creek manager Brant Cummings throws out there is going to produce.

“Just the group of guys we’ve got,” Nordell said. “You can’t beat it. Everyone in the dugout is always confident. Even when we are down, it doesn’t feel like we are down and we’re just ready to play.”

All hands will be on deck on Thursday when the ‘Dads face the Packers again in Healdsburg. Walnut Creek moved up to no. 1 in the California Collegiate League power rankings after taking two of three from the Prune Packers, but it is still 2.5 games back of Healdsburg and hopes to get a game back when the top two teams in the CCL face off at Recreation Park.

“Tomorrow is a big game,” Nordell said. “I’m excited for the boys to go out there and if we pitch the way we’ve been pitching. Hit the way we’ve been hitting and fielding the ball. I think we have a good chance tomorrow. I’m confident in our guys.”

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