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December 8, 2023

They do it again: Packers repeat as CCL champions

Healdsburg team turns up the heat in SLO for 2nd state championship

The Healdsburg Prune Packers tore through the CCL championship weekend, outscoring opponents 35-8 over three games, climaxed by a 14-1 drubbing of #1 ranked  Conjeo Oaks on Saturday night.

This makes it two championships in a row for the Healdsburg team, which plays in the Northern Division of the California Collegiate League. It concludes a season that saw the team go 37-10 overall with several season-leading stats on the team: highest batting average (.400) and most RBIs (51) by Joey Kramer, most home runs (15) by Jared Sundstrom; and best pitching record (6-1) by Sam Stoutenborough.  

All that was good enough to get them only the #2 seed in the post-season round robin tournament, as the larger Southern Division has long been presumed the stronger. This year’s tournament was held in San Luis Obispo at Sinsheimer Park, where the Packers started their 2022 playoff run on Aug. 4. 

Their opponents were the hosting SLO Blues – the same team the Packers defeated 8-7 in last year’s championship game. This year’s rematch wasn’t so close. With Caden Noah (of U. Texas Austin) on the mound to start, the #3 seeded Blues were held without a run for four innings while the Packers scored four times off Bryson Van Sickle (U. Utah) on seven hits and three walks. 

In the top of the eight, the Blues began to blow their horns and scored two runs, drawing within one of the Packers, 4-3, going into the bottom of the inning.

That was a cue to the Packers to unload, and they scored four big runs, a cushion that was more than they needed. The deflated Blues went down in order and the game ended at 8-3. 

When the dust settled Braydon Runion (U. New Mexico) had gone three-for-three with a double and four RBIs, Sam Brown (Univ. of Portland) got two hits, one of them a double, and Zac Vooletich (Texas Tech)  got a double of his own. Noah got the win, and the Packers were feeling pretty good about themselves with one tough game down, two to go.

The next day Healdsburg faced the Conejo Oaks (Ventura County), who had advanced to the winner’s round by drowning the Orange County Riptide, 8-2. The Friday, Aug. 5 game found the Packers taking command out of the gate as, scoring on a walk to Vooletich driven home by a double to left by Joey Kramer (Cal State Northridge). 

Kramer was again key to a run scored in the third, slapping a single to right to advance Jack Holcroft (Univ. Portland) to third, who then scored on a Runion infield shot that the shortstop couldn’t handle. Three more were added in the sixth, two on a lofty home run by Holcroft, and the Packers with five runs had all they needed to win.

But as it turned out, their biggest inning was yet to come, the eighth. They loaded the bases off pitcher Wesley De La Torre, the third Oaks pitcher of the game but the guy they stuck with. He walked in one run, and another scored on a sacrifice fly, but the bases were loaded again when Kimble Schuessler (UT Austin) put one over the fence for a grand slam and an unassailable 12-1 lead. 

Leave it to the Oaks, though, assail they did, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth but coming up more than a bit short, 13-4. Winning pitcher was Marvcus Guarin (UOP).

Under the double-elimination rules, the loser had to return to an extra playoff round, while the winner, the Prune Packers, just needed to win one more game to claim the title. The  next afternoon the frustrated Oaks ripped the Riptide 10-2, so they came up against the Packers one more time, hoping to build on that momentum with an upset.

Unfortunately for them the Prune Packers were in no mood to mess around. The game was only half over before Healdsburg had a 10-0 lead, and when the Oaks scored a single unearned run in the top of the sixth the Packers took it out on them with four more of their own in the bottom of the inning, producing the final 14-1 result.

Voolevitch, Runion and Kramer each had a pair of doubles, for 10 RBIs between them. Winning pitcher was Sam Stoutenborough (Texas Christian), whose eight strikeouts turned out to be the best performance by a pitcher in the playoffs.

The team mobbed together at the pitcher’s mound when closing hurler Christian Becerra (UC Berkeley) struck out Noah Karliner of the Oaks on a 3-2 pitch, thus sealing the Packers dominant run for a second CCL Championship in two years—and setting the table for a three-peat in 2023. 

In the official CCL reporting on the playoffs, Gomes is quoted as saying that this team never let up. “They never came off the gas pedal,” Gomes said. “We talk about emptying the tank … and they did that. They responded to challenges all summer.” 

Coach Gomes and the CCL trophy. (Christian Kallen)

Said Gomes, who ends his ninth year as manager of the Prune Packers, “It means a lot to the Healdsburg community,” adding, “I think it’s I think it’s good for the league to have some parity.” The six-team Southern District has traditionally been the stronger over the five-team Northern, but the Packers’ successive triumphs changes that assumption.

Keep an eye out for news about next season at https://www.prunepackers.org.


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