By Jim Buckley
CCL California Championship Game 2
Championship baseball looked like a championship boxing match as the Foresters and Packers battled back and forth through two exciting games on Saturday in the CCL California Championship Series. And like a lot of fights, this one ended in a split decision. After Santa Barbara beat the Prune Packers 8-5 in Game 1, Healdsburg busted open a tied Game 2 with four in the eighth in the nightcap to win 9-5 and send the series to a deciding Game 3 on Sunday at noon. (The game will be at Cal Lutheran; Foresters fans are welcome to come and cheer in person. Tickets sold at the gate.)
Game 1 was a bit of deja vu after Friday’s seesaw CCL Championship win over Arroyo Seco. As they did Friday, the Sters took a 4-0 lead over the Prune Packers after three innings, only to give up a five-spot in the sixth that turned things around for Healdsburg. But after falling behind, Santa Barbara rallied as they’ve done all year and replied instantly with four runs to take the lead 8-5. Jacob Burton then pitched a clear seventh. In the eighth, the Packers loaded the bases only to leave them that way thanks to the pitching of Clayton Beeter and Elijah Trest.
“We call them bounceback innings and we got one there,” said manager Bill Pintard. “We got the bounceback and then we got the shutdown for the rest of the game.”
The Foresters got on the board first in Game 1. Bellafronto cracked a one-out single and Christian Franklin walked. After a flyout, Santa Barbara did what it has done all year—came through with two outs. Ross Cadena induced a throwing error by the Packers shortstop to score Bellafronto. After Spencer Jones walked to load the bases, Jacob Katzfey smacked a ground-ball single through the right side, scoring two more.
Taggart weathered a bit of trouble in the second, as the Packers got two on, but a grounder to Bellafronto ended the threat. Otherwise, the Foresters’ starter allowed a lead-off homer in the sixth to Cal Conley, but otherwise struck out four and walked none.
“Taggart was great, he’s been solid for us all year,” said Pintard.
In the third, Hall reached on another SS error and then Spencer Jones beat out an infield hit. Both stole to advance to put two more in scoring position for Katzfey. Knowing what he could do, the Packers pitched around him and walked. With Dru Baker up, Hall stunned the Packers and the fans by stealing home on a very close play.
“That was a highlight for sure. We had timed the pitcher earlier in the game and when Hall had the opportunity he took it,” Pintard said.
“That was the first time I’ve ever done that in a game,” said Hall with a smile. “[Coach Skyler Ellis] was with me and he told me we could do it. It was fun.”
In the sixth, after the Conley homer chased Taggart, Cole Quintanilla took over with a man on first. After Bellafronto made a spectactular diving stab for one out, the Foresters could not complete a double play with the next batter, Cam Blake. That left the door open for back-to-back singles by the Packers, the second of which scored their second run. With two out, John Lagattuta smacked a three-run homer high over the rightfield wall.
Not a team to wait to respond after falling behind, Santa Barbara forced the issue quickly in the bottom of the sixth, putting on two via a single and a hit by pitch. In what turned out to be the turning point in the game, the Healdsburg pitcher then threw away Dru Baker’s bunt attempt and both Foresters scored to retake the lead. A pair of walks loaded the bases for Bellafronto, who struck out looking. But then Franklin took advantage, driving a run-scoring single into left.
The Foresters turned it over to Burton, who hit 97 on the radar gun, and Elijah Trest, who earned the save that left Santa Barbara one victory away from the state championship.
In Game 2, as they have throughout the championship weekend, the Foresters struck first. A Quentin Selma bunt single began the second inning, and two walks loaded the bases in front of Erik Kennedy’s sac fly to score Selma.
The Packers took a page from the Sters playbook when they bounced back in the bottom of the second. A pair of singles, one of which barely made it past the pitcher’s mound, were sandwiched by a pair of walks. The second free pass brought in the tying run with one out. Another walk with two outs made it 2-1 Packers.
Starter Brooks Fuller had command issues in the third as he walked the bases loaded and then plunked a Packer to make it 3-1 in favor of Healdsburg. That ended his day after having walked seven and given up three runs and three hits.
Christian Winston inherited the one-out, bases-loaded jam and got one out, but once again the Packers took a page from the Foresters. Jason Dicochea banged a two-out single up the middle and two more runs scored. The second slid in just ahead of a strong, accurate throw from Christian Franklin in center. A diving stop by Nick Bellafronto of a hard-hit grounder saved another run and ended the inning, but the Packers had moved to a 5-1 lead.
Santa Barbara started chipping away at that lead and got one back in the fourth on a single by Nick Bellafronto to score Tevin Tucker, who had reached on an infield single. But the Sters left two men on base, continuing a game-long trend—7 LOB in the first four innings.
Ryan Cash made sure that Selma would not be left on base in the sixth after his leadoff double. Cash continued his clutch hitting by slicing a double into left field to make the score 5-3. That ended the day for Packers starter Eli Birdsong. After Cash moved to third on a groundout, he scored on a wild pitch to move the Sters to within one at 5-4.
In the eighth, Spencer Jones led off with a bouncing single through the box. A seeing-eye single by Selma sent Jones home with the tying run. The Prune Packers then completed their own comeback in the eighth to tie the series and set up the winner-take-all match up Sunday.