| August 2, 2023
Photo Credit: Spencer So
By Sam Nute
After an exciting end to the regular season, the CCL 30 Postseason kicked-off with the first game between the Walnut Creek Crawdads and the Lincoln Potters in the inaugural CCL 30 Wild Card Round.
This year, the CCL introduced a new playoff format where the top three teams from each division make the playoffs. The second and third seeds from each division face off in the Wild Card round, with the winner moving on to play the first seed in the Divisional Round. Finally, the winner of each divisional round will face off in the best-of-three CCL 30 State Championship.
Entering the game on Tuesday, Lincoln had won seven of their last ten games and were riding a very hot offensive stretch, scoring 66 runs over their final five games of the regular season. Outfielder Nolan Wilson (Nevada) would score Lincoln’s lone run of the night, finishing a season where he hit .337 with six doubles and two homers. Plus, middle-infield partners Patrick Herrara (Kentucky) and Zachary Chamizo (UC Riverside) both had hits to cap off .300+ AVG seasons of their own.
The last time these two teams faced, the Potters upset the ‘Dads, winning a three-game series a little over a week ago.
The Crawdads defeated the Potters 7-1 and moved on to face the Healdsburg Prune Packers in the Divisional Round behind nine innings of one-run ball from RHP Tyler Blair (Cal) and LHP EJ McGrew (Willamette) plus a bounce-back performance from the offense.
“I have a checklist each day that I look at in terms of things we need to do to win baseball games in general,” Walnut Creek head coach Brant Cummings said. “We threw strikes, we pitched, we played defense and we scored when we needed to.”
Ranking third on the team in innings pitched, Blair has been one of the ‘Dads best pitchers this year. In 21.2 innings, Blair pitched to a 2.49 ERA, striking out 20 and allowing just six earned runs on the season. On Tuesday, Blair delivered one of his best outings of the season. Over 5.0 innings, Blair allowed just one unearned run on a Crawdad error and struck out two while allowing just four hits and one walk.
Tuesday’s performance marks three straight outings in which Blair has gone five innings, and over that 15-inning stretch, he has allowed just one earned run on 10 hits.
“I just got a lot of confidence right now,” Blair said. “I’m attacking the zone, getting ahead and trusting my catchers (Nico) Button and (Ryan) Helfrick. Just keeping it simple. My curveball was working, so I kept going to that, working backward a lot of the time.”
The Potters took the lead early on an error by Crawdad third baseman Max Farfan (Illinois Chicago), but Walnut Creek struck back in the third on an RBI single from outfielder Cole Fellows (Columbia). With the heavy wind blowing in from center field, the teams weren’t expecting too many homers tonight, but a lucky break in the weather allowed outfielder Brian DuRoff (Charlotte) to muscle one over the center field wall putting the Crawdads up 2-1.
“It was the second or third time I saw that kid, so I knew kind of what he wanted to do,” DuRoff said. “He started out with a breaker early, right in my wheelhouse, and I kind of just dropped the barrel on it, and I just backspun it, and it kept going. I thought it was gonna stay in, but it was nice to see one leave the yard.”
The solo shot was all Walnut Creek needed, following Blair’s masterful start and impressive relief work by McGrew. Across four innings, McGrew allowed just one hit and one walk while striking out two. McGrew’s four-inning save allowed Cummings to use just two pitchers, and after losing a few pitchers over the last few weeks, that couldn’t have been more imperative with a possible four more games in the next five days.
“We needed that. We are a little shorthanded right now, so it felt good to get those out of those guys.” Cummings said. “Using two guys now, we have the rest of the guys, excluding maybe one or two, that are able to go tomorrow. Then we have one or two more guys that will become available on the weekend if we are able to move on.”
After a clutch two-RBI double from Helfrick and three sacrifice flies, the Crawdads advance and now prepare to face the Healdsburg Prune Packers tomorrow, August 2, at 6:05 pm PST. Earlier last week, the Crawdads swept Healdsburg and went 5-2 against them on the season.
However, Walnut Creek is not just resting on its laurels.
“It is not going to be easy,” Cummings said. “It never is against them. Good players. They play well, and they specifically play well at their place. It’s a huge task; it’s doable, but it is not gonna be easy.”
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