Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 24, 2013

Menlo can prevent a history-making win in CCS finale

by Emanuel Lee

Since the Central Coast Section baseball playoffs began in 1967, no championship team has ever finished the season with a perfect record.

Pacific Grove wants to be that team, and Menlo School wants to make sure the Breakers are not that team.

Whether history is made will be determined Saturday when No. 2 seed Pacific Grove (30-0) takes on No. 5 Menlo (22-7) in the CCS Division III title game at San Jose Municipal Stadium at 4 p.m.

"Obviously, it is another huge task," said Menlo coach Craig Schoof. "This has not been an easy draw for us in any game so far in the tournament."

All three of Menlo's victories have been by one run.

"It's baseball," Schoof said. "We are good enough to win, but they are loaded on the mound and a very confident (as they should be) team."

"(But) Got to think the pressure is all on them. Nobody expects us to win and they have a chance to make history. They beat us last year so maybe they will be overconfident."

Pacific Grove ended Menlo's streak of successive CCS titles last year with a 10-6 victory.

"Not talking about payback at all," Schoof said. "I know the kids have mentioned it but, in all honesty, we talk about playing against the ball, not against another team."

Chris Atkeson or Austin Marcus will take the mound on Saturday, with whoever doesn't start being able for relief. It's the last game of the season, something Schoof and his players have experienced before as this will be the Knights' fourth straight appearance in the championship game.

Menlo earned a shot at perhaps winning the sixth CCS title in program history by upsetting No. 1 seed Palma, 4-3, in eight innings in a semifinal Tuesday night. Pacific Grove advanced with a 10-3 win over R.L. Stevenson.

No other CCS team in the past four years has made as many title-game appearances as the Knights. Pacific Grove, meanwhile, will be looking for its 38th straight victory over a two-year span.

"I have to admit I'm pretty happy to be there for a fourth straight year," said Schoof. "So much can happen. We lost so much of last year's team; we are still very young."

On Tuesday, Menlo scored the winning run in the top of the eighth. Christian Pluchar led off with a single and Graham Stratford bunted back to the pitcher, who threw out Pluchar at second. Will King walked and Menlo had runners at first and second.

Jared Lucian grounded to the shortstop, who threw the ball away -- allowing Stratford to score with King taking third and Lucian advancing to second. Joe Farnham struck out but Mikey Diekroeger walked to load the bases. Austin Marcus hit a shot down the third-base line, which the Palma third baseman knocked down and scrambled to touch the bag to end the inning.

Palma (22-7) rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth to tie the game at 3. Palma had taken a 1-0 lead in the first before Menlo tied it on Farnham's infield single in the top of the fourth. The Knights added two more runs in the inning on a two-run single by Marcus.

Palma got its lead-off runner on in the bottom of the seventh and moved him to second on a sacrifice bunt. Menlo pitcher Jack Redman, however, got out of the inning without allowing a run to set the stage for the Knights' winning tally in the eighth.

Redman (8-1) gave up a lead-off double in the bottom of the eighth, but set the Chieftains down without further trouble. He finished with a complete game, his second in the postseason to go along with a save in the quarterfinals.

Division I

For one fleeting moment, Palo Alto had every reason to think it could topple St. Francis in its CCS playoff semifinal Wednesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium. Then, reality set in.

The No. 5 seed Vikings struck first, but it wasn't nearly enough in a 8-3 loss. Palo Alto finished the season 18-16 and made a stirring run in the section playoffs, knocking off No. 4 seed Bellarmine in the quarterfinals.

"We didn't return one starter (from last year's 27-7 team), and this squad flat-out overachieved," Palo Alto coach Erick Raich said. "They squeezed every ounce of athletic ability they had out of themselves. We would've had to play close to a perfect game to beat St. Francis."

Which the Vikings didn't come close to doing. Palo Alto struck first, scoring a run in the top of the third inning on a sacrifice-fly from Austin Poore. However, in what would be a recurring theme, the top seed Lancers (28-4) had an answer every time Palo Alto threatened to make things close.

St. Francis scored three times in the bottom of the third, highlighted by a two-run double from Michael Strem, who finished with three hits and five RBI. The Lancers got the leadoff man on in the inning as a result of a Palo Alto error, a pivotal moment in the game.

"That's a huge turning point right there," Raich said.

The Palo Alto players felt the same way.

"You can never lose hope, but it's hard to watch when you get that first run and then can't hold the opponent down partly because we let them in," said Vikings' first baseman Rowen Thompson, who collected two of the team's five hits. "It's tough for morale in the dugout as well. Whenever you can get out in front, it's really huge from a momentum standpoint. It also gives you confidence you can win the game, but we just couldn't finish it off."

Vikings starter Danny Erlich allowed three hits and three earned runs in three innings before being lifted for Rohit Ramkumar with no outs in the bottom of the fourth inning. St. Francis scored three times in that frame to take a 6-1 lead.

To its credit, Palo Alto fought to the very end, scoring two runs in the sixth off Strem, who allowed three runs over six innings while striking out eight. However, the Lancers answered with two of their own in the bottom half to account for the final score.

"Honestly, I think they're a lot more athletic than we are," Raich said. "The speed of the game looked a little fast for our guys at times."

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