By Annika Bereny
An 11th inning grand slam shattered the hopes of the Walnut Creek Crawdads as they fell just short of a win against the Lincoln Potters on Saturday afternoon. Entering the game, the Crawdads had been riding a six-game win streak, and looking to clinch a home playoff game with a win today. Unfortunately, excellent pitching by the Potters as well as four errors by the Crawdads helped Lincoln edge past Walnut Creek in a game that was thrilling until its final strike.
The Lincoln Potters came out nearly as hot as the 92 degree heat at first pitch, with two walks and an erroneous throw which loaded up the bases early on and the Lincoln Potters were able to get on the board first after Nolan Wilson (University of Nevada-Reno) hit an RBI grounder into a double play.
Crawdad starter Ryan Spalliero (Central Arizona College) often struggles with his control of the ball—when he’s good, he’s great, but when he struggles, as we saw today, he has the tendency to give up walks. Thankfully, an exciting play at the plate by Spalliero after a wild pitch recorded the final out of the first inning, with a tag out on an attempt to steal home and widen the Potters’ lead.
Ryan Ellis (University of Texas-Arlington) doubled to right field to begin the game for the Crawdads, sliding into second and placing a runner in scoring position for Walnut Creek with no outs in the bottom of the first. Three consecutive outs would end the threat, however, stranding the Crawdad on third.
Ben Higdon (John A. Logan College) of the Potters hit his own double to right field, looking to convert what Ellis could not. He too would be unsuccessful as the first strikeout of the day for Spalliero came in a huge spot, taking down Luke Odden (Georgia Southern) to end the second and strand runners at second and third, preventing anyone coming across for the Potters.
Zachary Chamizo (UC Riverside), the third baseman for the Potters, was hot both on offense and defense today. He turned a double play to end the second inning for Walnut Creek, and then just seconds later hit a leadoff home run to start the third inning and increase Lincoln’s lead to two.
That lead would not last for long, though, as the Crawdads, with two outs in the bottom of the third, Brian Duroff (in the Transfer Portal) hit a monster 2-run home run to tie the game up, putting Walnut Creek on the board for the first time on Saturday.
5 strikeouts in 6 innings was the final line for Lincoln starting pitcher Treven Crowley (CSU Bakersfield), with all of them having come while Walnut Creek was looking. The Crawdads have shown themselves to be a team that swings a lot while in the box and Crowley was able to take advantage of that in his spectacular 5 innings of play.
With a pitching change to Ryan Delaney (Bucknell), the fourth mirrored the first and the bases were loaded up again early in the inning. Delaney walked a man home and the Crawdads trailed again, then Wilson beat the throw to first and one more got across for the Potters.
In the bottom of the fourth, Walnut Creek was able to record hard hits, but only one of them changed the score. Joey Donnelly (California) hit a high and deep home run out to dead center to cut the deficit in half, making the score 4-3 in favor of the Potters.
Delaney was pitching his best baseball of the summer, as the reliever recorded only one earned run over his three innings of work.
Back to back knocks began the fifth for Walnut Creek as they placed two on base. A two run single to left by Ryan Brome (Southeastern Louisiana) in his penultimate game as a Crawdad gave the ‘Dads their first lead of the game.
Walnut Creek spent their sixth inning extending that lead as a Griffin Harrison (in the Transfer Portal) two-run home run and a liner down the left field line by Duroff made it 8-4 for the Crawdads.
Tyson Pointer (University of Texas-Arlington) crushed a two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh to get the ‘Dads to double digits. That would be his seventh of the summer as the right fielder once again showed off the power behind his swing.
Chamizo came back in a big way, crushing a two-run RBI double to left field that allowed the Potters to add to their score for the first time since the fourth inning. That scoring would continue as Lincoln committed themselves to playing small ball, rotating their runners around the bases to a result of six runs in the eighth, tying the game at 10.
Jaden Bruno (Stanford University) came into the game for the Potters in the 8th and was dominant on the mound, sitting down five Crawdads in a row and preventing a walk-off in the ninth, striking out Charlie Welch (Arkansas) with the winning run just 90 feet away.
Back-to-back walks loaded up the bases with no outs in the top of the 10th. But a 1-2-3 double play to get the lead runner out at first as well as an out at first proved monumental to the game, and possibly even the season. With two outs now on the inning, Ryan Troye (UC Santa Barbara), the ‘firefighter,’ put out the fire with a massive strikeout to end the inning.
A sacrifice bunt by catcher Nico Button (California) moved Welch, the winning run, to third base to open the inning. The Crawdads were unfortunately unable to bring that run home, however, stranding the go-ahead run at third for the second inning in a row.
Reuben Church (Kentucky) would crack the game wide open in the top of the 11th. With Chamizo getting hit by a pitch, Odden being walked, and the International Tie Breaker (ITB) rule that places a runner on second in extra innings, the bases were loaded up for Lincoln. A high drive deep in the field was a no-doubter as Church hit a grand slam when it mattered the most.
The Crawdad dugout fell silent.
Walnut Creek refused to go down without a fight, though. On the first pitch of his final at bat at Monte Vista High School, Brome crushed a two run homer to cut the deficit to two.
Suddenly, there was hope for the Crawdads. But two put-outs in a row and a final swinging strikeout would cut the rally short, with the so-called ‘Cardiac Crawdads’ unable to complete a comeback.
Walnut Creek has, however, clinched a playoff spot and has the ability to clinch a home playoff game with any future win. They currently stand 2.5 games behind the No. 1 Healdsburg Prune Packers with a huge series against them just on the horizon. Tomorrow they will head back up to Lincoln to finish the series against the Potters, hoping to restart a new winning streak and finish the season strong.