Week 8 Recap: Saints in the 2023 CCL PlayoffsBy Arroyo Seco Saints August 09, 2023 10:47pm
PASADENA, CA – The Arroyo Seco Saints headed into the week as the #1 seed in the CCL South and were looking for a division title Wednesday evening. Though the Saints had defeated the Riptide less than a week prior to Wednesday’s game, Orange County had still won six out of seven matchups this season. Being the #1 seed did not preclude the Saints from falling to a team they’d been unable to beat until late in the season.
Arroyo Seco took the field Thursday evening after three days of rest. Carter Hererra (Cal State San Bernardino) was on the mound, just as he had been in the last game against Orange County. Behind him was 18 innings pitched without a single earned run.
He threw four flawless innings to start the night, before finding himself in a tough situation in the 5th. With two on and two away, the Riptide were close to finding the board first. In 4 previous games, a single run was all it took for Orange County to walk away with a win. Hererra however was able to draw a pop-up to left field from the lead-off batter and end the inning.
Kyte McDonald (Rice) had two homeruns in back-to-back games prior to Thursday. In the bottom of the 5th, he made it three-in-a-row and put the Saints ahead by one with a 393-foot solo blast.
Peyton Cariaco (Kent State) took over for Herrera in the 7th and like his predecessor, threw his way out of a close call. Spencer Rasmussen (Azusa Pacific) made what was arguably the defensive play of the game, catching a line drive that would have tied the game had the ball gotten by.
Kevin Warunek (Longwood) took over from Cariaco for the last inning of the game, and preserved the Saints’ 1-0 lead. After six years playing in the league, this was the first time Arroyo Seco had fought its way to a CCL South division title.
Game one of the CCL State Championship Series commenced two days later back at Jackie Robinson Memorial Field. The Saints had momentum from Wednesday’s win as well as the home field advantage, but the Healdsburg Prune Packers were bringing a two-year reign as CCL State Champions with them.
The Packers, apparently undeterred by their 500 mile journey south, put two across in the second inning. The first run was the result of a double and error, the second from another double. A solo home run the following inning put the CCL North Division champs at a three-run advantage.
A flip switched for the Saints the following inning. It started with a double from Rasmussen, followed by a single from Chase Meggers (Oregon) that gave them their first run. The Packers found themselves with bases loaded, but managed to retire two batters in a row while allowing no runs. Then Connor Bradshaw (Pepperdine) sent the 0-1 pitch over the fence, and the Saints were leading 5-3.
McDonald added another insurance run in the 8th with an RBI single, then being brought across on a sacrifice flyout. Defensively, Jacob Henderson (Iowa) was holding off the Packers’ lineup for the last three innings, striking out three and allowing no runs to secure the 7-3 win.
The Saints were one win away from being named CCL State Champions heading into Saturday’s game. The energy was palpable from the first pitch, and only increased following the Saints’ first at-bat. Raider Tello roped a two-out double to keep the inning alive. First baseman Spencer Rasmussen (Azusa Pacific) came up next and delivered a 384-foot blast to put the Saints ahead by two.
The lead didn’t even last a full inning. In their at-bat, the Prune Packers put two across as well. Despite the rocky start, Hayden Lewis (Longwood) redeemed himself with five scoreless innings after that, allowing the Saints to finally reclaim the lead in the 6th.
Kyte McDonald hit a ground ball that seemed like it would be the first out of the 6th. The centerfielder was able to leg out a single instead and returned the energy to the Saints’ dugout. Next at-bat, after McDonald took second on a wild pitch, Chase Meggers’ single brought in the go ahead run. Alex Birge (Wichita State) singled in the next at-bat as well, putting runners on the corner with no outs. Mason Hammond (Tarleton State) scored another run with a sacrifice fly out, and the Saints were ahead by two again.
A quiet bottom half boded well for the Saints, until the Prune Packers hit their stride again in the 7th with a two-out, three-run rally to overtake the lead. Despite a couple of hits in the 8th, the Saints were unable to spark their signature late-game rally.
The series finale began at noon this afternoon, back at Cal Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks. The end result would either extend the Prune Packer’s reign as CCL state champs or would give the Saints their first title in their first Championship appearance.
The matchup started off in the Packers’ favor after they took a one-run lead in the first inning. Healdsburg came close again the following inning, but were held back by a put out at home courtesy of left fielder Preston Godfrey (New Mexico State).
The bottom of the third inning began with a double from Max Blessinger (Belmont), followed by an infield error that put runners on second and third. Kyte McDonald’s (Rice) sacrifice flyout allowed the run to score, and the game was tied heading into the 4th.
A solo home run in the 5th temporarily gave the Packers’ their lead back. In the bottom half, Blessinger took first after being hit by a pitch, and found himself on third after Rasmussen singled. Yet again, the tying run came off the bat of McDonald. Meggers’ singled to load the bases, but no more runs came out of the inning.
The Packers took the lead back yet again with a two-run, two-hit inning in the top of the 6th. They added another four the following inning.
Friday night’s hitter of the game Connor Bradshaw (Pepperdine) came in clutch yet again with a three-run home run in the bottom of the 8th.
The Saints’ had several last-minute rallies to take the win this season, so a big ninth inning wasn’t out of the question. It unfortunately wasn’t the case this matchup, and the Saints fell short of the championship title. Despite that, the Saints are waling away from an overall successful season and their debut in the CCL State Championship.
- Saints Reporter Sydney Barragan (New York University)
- Saints Photographer Sonny Tapia (Cal State Long Beach)