By Colin Becht
The Palo Alto National 10-11 year-old all stars seem to relish living on the edge. They stepped to the precipice in the District 52 tournament when they lost their second-round game to Hillsborough. And three times on Friday, the all-stars were a step away from the abyss just an inning before scoring to win the District 52 championship.
Palo Alto National completed a seven-game winning streak through the consolation bracket to win the District 52 championship Friday night. Palo Alto National defeated Belmont/Redwood Shores, 10-4, at Lakeshore Park in San Mateo -- its second victory over Belmont in consecutive days.
Thriving in pressure at-bats, Palo Alto scored all 10 of its runs with two outs, including a six-run, two-out rally in the fourth inning that broke the game open.
"They were pretty immune to pressure," said manager Ted Tracy of his team. "One out, two outs, they don't really think much about it."
With the district championship secured, Palo Alto National advances to the Section 3 Tournament in Union City. Palo Alto's first game will be next Saturday at 2 p.m.
Tommy Smale delivered a clutch performance on the mound for Palo Alto, pitching 4 2/3 innings with just three runs and six hits allowed. Smale also struck out three.
"He wasn't really pitching on power like the other guys. He does more changeups," said Tracy. "He's a very crafty pitcher."
Palo Alto has come to count on Smale delivering lights-out performances on the mound. He pitched in all seven games Palo Alto won in the district tournament.
When Smale hit the 85-pitch maximum, Riley Schoeben took to the hill to finish off Belmont, recording the last four outs including a perfect sixth inning.
After being shut down by Belmont starter Matt Carroll for the first 2 2/3 two innings, Palo Alto's bats suddenly came alive with three straight two-out doubles. Ryan Chang doubled in Ethan Stern and Justin Hull followed with another double to score Griffy Byer, who pinch-ran for Chang.
An inning later, Palo Alto again waited until two outs to find its offensive stroke. When an error that would have ended the inning kept Palo Alto alive, it responded with three more hits, including a two-RBI double by Alec Olmstead. Stern and Hull both had RBI singles as well. Relying on two errors and four hits, Palo Alto scored six runs to build an 8-0 lead.
Belmont chipped away at that lead with two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings, led by an RBI double by Nick Garcia. However, Palo Alto was unfazed by the comeback attempt and added two more runs in the top of the sixth to ensure the victory. Ben Cleasby's RBI single scored Stern and Byer came in on a wild pitch.
Stern executed the job of a leadoff hitter to near perfection, getting three hits in the game. Hull and Smale also had multi-hit games.
A deciding factor in the game was not a disparity in hitting or pitching, but in defense. While Palo Alto committed just one error that led to one unearned run, Belmont made three errors that gifted Palo Alto six unearned runs.
"The one thing we really focused on throughout is (having) the best defense possible," said Tracy.
With two runs already in and Belmont threatening to rally in the fourth, it was Palo Alto's defense that quashed that rally. Brian Tracy made a diving catch on a blooper that got Palo Alto its first out of the inning and kept Mitch McCabe at second. Smale went on to retire the next two batters to get out of the inning without further damage.
"If he didn't make that play, we would have been struggling," said Tracy.
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