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September 29, 2023

Three-Peat! Packers Go the Distance Again

Healdsburg’s baseball team scores rare sports success

The term “three-peat” is well known though rarely earned in sports. But the Healdsburg Prune Packers proved themselves in exclusive company by winning their third consecutive championship title in the California Collegiate League (CCL).

The entire series, as it is every year, is played in Southern California and not in the more hospitable atmosphere  of the Packers’ Sonoma County—despite the fact that the Packers were once again the number-one seed in the championship series, not least because of their winning the championship the last two years.

“The adversity that we felt going down there was pretty apparent,” said team GM and coach Joey Gomes, the day after that third game. “But, you know, we all kind of gathered together, and the message was, they have to play us on the field. The antics are going to be over once that umpire says, ‘Play ball.’”

Case in point: Though the games were broadcast on the CCL South YouTube channel, the commentators were from the Arroyo Seco Saints and, of all things, the Walnut Creek Crawdads. Ironically, the Packers had defeated the Crawdads just days earlier to win the Northern Division title.

Division Playoff

GO UP HIGH Brian McBroom, left, and Damian Bravo exchange support during play in Game 3 of the CCL 2023 championship series. (Photo by Christina Thai)

That Aug. 2 game for the division title was, as Gomes said, “a grind.” It clocked in at over four hours, an unheard-of length in the majors these days, where the pitch clock has cut almost half an hour off every game. And it didn’t even go into extra innings, but was settled with a 10-7 score after the Crawdads top-of-the-ninth rally fell short.

The game started out close, but the home team Packers accumulated runs in the twos and threes to lead 8-1 at the end of seven. A turning point of a sort came in the bottom of the sixth inning, when Ivan Brethowr—who had already walked and doubled—was hit by a pitch. A 93-mph pitch. In the head.

Gomes said the increase in hit batters, and walks, is probably not out of malice. “It’s how players are training. Velocity makes money, not accuracy anymore. So if you throw a hundred miles an hour, you’re gonna get paid. They don’t care if you throw it in a rectangle or not,” he said, referring to the strike zone.

The ball bounced off the big right fielder’s helmet as the Rec Park crowd groaned, but he shook it off and advanced to first.

The next time Brethowr came to the plate, in the bottom of the eighth inning, the score had narrowed to 8-4. With a runner on, the UC Santa Barbara slugger turned on a 3-2 pitch and sent it over the right field fence.

BATTING CAGE Massachusetts native Ivan Brethowr, who is attending UC Santa Barbara this fall, waits for a practice pitch prior to the Aug. 6 CCL championship game. (Photo by Christina Thai)

“A huge nail in the coffin home run,” said Gomes. “That sealed it, you know.”

The Crawdads’ three-run rally in the top of the ninth fell short, and the Packers headed for SoCal for their third championship series in a row.

Championship Series

The first game on Aug. 4 was played on Jackie Robinson Memorial Field near the Rose Bowl (the Hall-of-Famer was a Pasadena native). It was a home game for the Arroyo Seco Saints, and they took advantage of it with a 7-3 win.

The Prune Packers took an early 3-0 lead. But in the fourth inning, Saints star Connor Bradshaw (Pepperdine) cleared the bases with a 4-run grand slam that turned out to be all the runs they needed.

The next day, Saturday, Aug. 5, the teams relocated to a “neutral” diamond, Sparky Anderson Field in the San Fernando Valley. UC Santa Barbara rising junior Michael Rice got the win with four strikeouts in 4.1 innings, while his teammates scrambled for three “small-ball” runs in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead and eventually win, 5-4.

STARTING PITCHER Caden Bugarske warms up before the final game of the CCL championship series. The Prune Packers defeated the Saints, 10-7. (Photo by Christina Thai)

Then the season came down to Game Three, Sunday afternoon in the Valley. Caden Bugarske (Concordia U) got the start, and though he only allowed a single run in his three innings of work, he gave up five hits and walked two. So Gomes went to the bullpen and called in Rice, for his second game in as many days.

Rice kept the Saints at bay, followed by Grant Cherry (Long Beach State), who got the win. They allowed the Packers to start piling up runs and building an 8-2 lead going into the eighth inning. Vacaville’s Hunter Dorraugh (a rising senior at San Jose State) drove in three runs on two hits, while Connor Charpiot (Long Beach State) and Peyton Schulze (UC Berkeley) each got three hits.

With their hopes slipping away, the mood was somber in the Saints dugout, to say nothing of the announcers’ booth, until once again Bradshaw gave the Arroyo Seco fans a chance to cheer by unloading his second home run in the bottom of the eighth. The three-run blast closed the gap to three runs, but the score stayed 8-5 through the ninth as Windsor’s Gary Hall (San Jose State) retired the batters in order,

The victorious Prune Packers piled up near the mound to celebrate their third straight CCL championship. Rice was named Pitcher of the Tournament, Dorraugh won the MVP award, and the team, champions all, celebrated all the way home on the eight-hour bus ride.


WE’RE A WINNER CCL championship Prune Packers’ Michael Rice, at left, was named the seires Most Outstanding Pitcher, and Hunter Dorraugh, right, the series Most Outstanding Player. Coach Joey Gomes stands between them. (Photo by Christina Thai)

“What’s worth noting is that literally one of the country’s best baseball teams resides in Sonoma County,” said Gomes proudly the next day, as he watched over the batting school he runs in Santa Rosa.

“I just really want to thank Sonoma County,” he continued. “I mean, it was like every year this thing grows and grows and grows. Just to have the community support the Prune Packers, just to see the number of maroon hats with a P on ’em around town, and hearing people say, ‘Did we win yesterday?’”

And with a ready laugh, he added, “I really think now, if you don’t know who the Healdsburg Prune Packers are, you live under a rock.”

4TH OF JULY The Prune Packers gathered in their finest patriotic outfits prior to the July 4 game at Rec Park. (Photo by Brigid O’Connell)


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