Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 29, 2011

Palo Alto Oaks play for World Series berth

The game was tied when Bryan Beres came to the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning for the Palo Alto Oaks in the championship game of the AABC Northern California State Tournament against the NorCal Longhorns on Sunday in San Jose.

The Oaks had just rallied for three runs to deadlock the contest and now Beres had a chance to be the game's hero with two out and the winning run at third. Beres worked the count full, needing only a ball or base hit to end the game.

Beres swung on the final pitch and struck out, sending the game to extra innings. Fortunately for Beres, he got another chance to redeem himself.

In the bottom of the 11th, Stanford's Tyler Gaffney led off with a broken-bat double to center as the centerfielder dived for Gaffney's hit and just missed it. Gaffney hussled into second base to put the Oaks in business. Anthony Bona was intentionally walked to put the force on, so Palo Alto manager Steve Espinoza called for a bunt. Nick Borg responded with a sacrifice to the runners to second and third.

Jeff Ramirez was walked to load the bases and that brought up Beres again with another opportunity to knock in the winning run. The Longhorns' pitcher got behind 3-0 but came back to throw two strikes. On the full-count pitch, Beres came through with s sharp single between the shortstop and third baseman to drive home Gaffney with the winning run.

Palo Alto's 7-6 victory gave the Oaks their second straight NorCal State title and another berth in the AABC Stan Musial Western States Regional.

The Oaks (17-1) will face the No. 2 SoCal team in an opening-round game on Friday at 4:30 p.m. at The Masters College in Santa Clarita. The finals are scheduled for Sunday at Brookside Park in Pasadena at 9 a.m., with a challenge game (if necessary) starting around noon.

The tournament champion will advance to the Stan Musial World Series in Houston, Texas.

Palo Alto actually clinched a trip to the regionals on Sunday morning when its opponent, Solano, failed to show. That left only the Oaks and the Longhorns, with the tourney's top two teams advancing.

The championship game, as it turned out, also had no bearing on the Oaks' trip this week because the Longhorns had committed to another tournament in Marysville and had planned on skipping the regional in Southern California no matter the outcome.

Espinoza, however, didn't know that at the time and played the finale like it was an all-or-nothing game.

"We came to win the Northern California championship," Espinoza said, "and that's what we did."

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