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Resilient Crabs Rally Behind Three Walk-off Wins



Sunday's game was bigger than the others. A win in this contest would signal the first conference series win of the new era of Crabs baseball, while a loss would mean far more. Despite palpable tension, coach John Bryant sat calmly reading his book, the fifth in a 13-volume series, pregame outside of the dugout. Sunday day games are when Bryant (a fellow former Orange Coast Pirate) takes the opportunity to read outside in the elements — the crowd all around him. He's able to focus and find a center. I walked to the fence with our usual greeting, "How you doing, you old Pirate?"

He set his book aside for two ticks and answered, "Hey lefty. Ask me in three hours."

After I wished him luck, he said, "Thank you, we need this one," and locked fingers with me through the net for a second.

It's already been a trying season for our Crabs with more travel, a new conference and accelerated competition. Walking among the two teams pre-game, the opponents looked more like villains from a Mighty Duck movie. The roster showed a bunch of schools not usually represented against the Crabs. It's a new era for our Crabbies and, though it may be trial by fire, this season will go down as the one that brought an amazing brand of the greatest game on earth to Humboldt.

After a promising non-conference start that saw the good guys drop two games in the first 11, the Crabs would embark on a humbling and unforgiving road trip of conference games. Our boys of summer would return home 0-6, reeling and needing a spark to turn things around. Arcata Ballpark has a way of exorcising demons and the Crabs and their faithful would do everything to turn the season around.

Tuesday night — Star Wars Night, fittingly — it felt like our boys were coming home from a galaxy far, far away. Kicking off the two-game, non-conference set against the Athletic Edge Express, Zach Romero would make his first start of the summer, tossing five innings of one-run ball to pick up his first win, while Victor "Big Stick Vic" Castaneda would add two hits, three RBI, and his fourth homerun. Jett Ruby, who has been the ultimate table setter this summer would reach base five times, with two hits, three walks and a stolen base. The force was strong with the Crabbies as they rolled 11-2 to end the slide.

But Wednesday night, the fun would really begin. Entering the final frame trailing 6-5, in danger of losing a home game to a winless team, Antonio Avila would reach first after being hit by a pitch. Up came Trent Keys. Following a pitching change, Avila would steal second to put the tying run on second. Then Keys saw a fastball. I say he "saw" it because he hit it 400 feet over the fence and the entire stadium exploded. "I wasn't trying to do too much, the top of the lineup was behind me and I have total confidence in them. I was just trying to find something I could do damage with — this is an incredible feeling," said Keys. The Crabs would storm the field victorious and walk off 7-6, but a conference foe who had just swept them loomed large entering the weekend series.

After dropping the opening game of the series 6-4 to the Potters, Saturday night would feature another solid outing from local Cameron Saso. The McKinleyville native would make it into the seventh inning giving up one run, but the bats weren't there and the Crabs would have to rely on a walk to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth. In the 10th, the raucous crowd would start to make noise and it would take its toll on the Potters to the tune of three errors. That would set up Troy Harding, who came up with a huge line drive single to score Jett Ruby, and the Crabs would walk off again victorious.

Sunday, on Harry Potter Day, the Crabs would have more wizardry up their sleeves. In a game that moved quickly, and was error free and clean through the first eight frames, the Crabs would enter the ninth trailing 2-1. The Lincoln Potters would add two runs in the top to create an ominous situation for the good guys. Trailing 4-1 as they entered the bottom of the ninth, there came the Crab faithful. The cowbells, the band, the hecklers and the stomping would work their magic again, as the Potters were haunted by the same infield yips that plagued them the night before. Trent Keys would reach on an error, advance on a passed ball, steal third and score on a wild pitch to tie the game. Two errors in the inning would prove costly for the Potters as the Crabs tied it up. Tremendous performances on the mound from relief pitchers Bryce Stockton and Max Hippenstell would keep things tied until the bottom of the 11th, when with a runner on second base, Colin Callahan, came to the plate. Callahan, who played an amazing game defensively at short, was still busy shaking off a ground ball to the temple he took in the ninth. The stomping, the chanting, the cowbells returned. The park was absolutely electric. Callahan laid down a bunt that was on its way to being a single, but his speed and the situation rushed the pitcher, who would field it and throw it over the first baseman's head and up the first baseline. For the third time in a week, the Crabs stormed the field, Gatorade cooler in hand, ready to celebrate. They had done it again.

"I knew the crowd had the pitcher rattled. I just thought if I could make him field it we had a chance," said Callahan. "I just knew he'd throw it away."

Starting pitcher Nolan Long, who battled his way through another quality start, echoed that sentiment. "I look up and I see three errors for them, and none for us. That was the difference. We love playing in front of this crowd — they give us something extra, I've never experienced anything like it."

The long road back continues this week as the Crabs take on the Solano Mudcats for a three-game set staring Tuesday night. They will close out the series with a huge home game on the Fourth of July before heading back out on the road. Overall, 11 games in 13 days, but Humboldt's boys of summer enter this week on a high note, with plenty of magic still up their sleeve. Go, Crabs, go!

Heckles of the week:

To a Lincoln Potters player: "Stand up so you stretch out your jersey, we can't even see your number, half squat."

Upon the aforementioned player's strikeout: "You must be THIS tall to ride this ride lil' guy!"

Brandon Dixon (he/him) is a former All American who played college baseball for Orange Coast College, Point Loma Nazarene and the Peninsula Oilers. Husband and father to two little girls, he's also the host of The Brando Show podcast.


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