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Get the Brooms Out

by Justin de Haas

The Healdsburg Prune Packers had sole possession of first place in the California Collegiate League North division for 50 days, but that is no longer that case.

The Walnut Creek Crawdads completed the series sweep and have won five out of seven games in the season series against the Prune Packers. The Packers (36-9, 24-9 CCL) are still two-time defending CCL champions, but the ‘Dads (32-8-1, 24-8 CCL) are challenging the crown after winning 5-4 on Thursday.

The Crawdads can credit excellent pitching performances toward the sweep. Walnut Creek pitchers Sean Fitzpatrick and Kody Perry won Player of the Game honors in the first two games of the series and Tyler Blair followed suit. The starter had his longest outing of the season against the Prune Packers and he credits his success to his fastball.

“I felt good,” Blair said. “Last week definitely helped me going four innings against the Mudcats. I feel like my fastball velocity stayed good. I felt it even increase as the game went along. I did not feel tired…Honestly, just my two-seam [fastball]. I was working off that. That was probably the best it’s been. I was just throwing it middle and letting it work.”

Blair did not pitch for the California Golden Bears in the Spring due to injury and he started the summer in the bullpen. The Cal product was a CCL Showcase Game representative as a relief pitcher and he made his second start of the summer on Thursday. The Crawdad mentioned how he felt stronger going deeper into the game because he was “built up nicely” throughout the summer and it also helped that he had a fellow Golden Bear as his battery mate.

“Trusting [Walnut Creek catcher Nico] Button behind the plate,” Blair said. “He’s been great all summer. We work together after each outing, breaking down my performance. He’s been helping me a lot, so I just trust him.”

Blair’s fellow CCL Showcase Game representative, Walnut Creek closer Cade Cushing, came into an eighth-inning jam to get the last six outs of the game. Walnut Creek relief pitcher Joey Cammarata didn’t allow a run through his first two innings, but he allowed two walks and a double without recording an out in the eighth. Cushing allowed a double to Healdsburg third baseman Peyton Schulze to cut the lead to one, but he retired the last five batters with three strikeouts to get his first save since June 27.

Cammarata needed the early run support the Walnut Creek offense provided, thanks in part to left fielder Cole Fellows’ two-run home run in the fourth inning. The wind blew some hard-hit balls back to the warning track throughout, but it seemed like the wind paused for a brief moment and Fellows seized the opportunity with his homer. The Crawdads scored a couple unearned runs afterward because of Healdsburg’s poor defense, which committed another five errors on Thursday, totaling 14 in the three-game series.

Healdsburg relief pitcher Jack Snook allowed the bomb to Fellows and was pinned with the loss. Snook came in relief of starting pitcher Pierce George, who touched mid 90s on his fastball and had three strikeouts in two innings. George only pitched one inning in the CCL prior to Thursday and he pitched two innings for the Texas Longhorns in the Spring, so the starter was not stretched out to pitch longer than a couple innings and it came back to bite the Prune Packers.

The Crawdads have sole possession of first place in the CCL North for the first time this season, but they still need to win two of three games against the Sonoma Stompers (22-21, 14-18 CCL) this weekend to clinch the top spot in the CCL Playoffs. There is a saying in baseball that “momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher,” and it is fair to say Blair has confidence in Dylan McShane for Friday. 

“We got D Money McShane on the mound tomorrow, so I’m not too worried,” Blair said. “He’s going to do his thing. Start us off on the right foot and work from there.”

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