By Keith Peters
Two swings of the bat handed the Palo Alto baseball team a victory, a championship and the No. 1 seed for next week's SCVAL De Anza Division playoffs.
The swings were provided by Christian Lonsky and Ozzie Braff. The result was an 8-3 triumph over host Los Altos on Wednesday, giving the Vikings sole possession of first place with a 12-1 division mark (21-3 overall) while dropping the Eagles to 11-2 (17-5) with only Friday's rematch at Palo Alto (3:30 p.m.) remaining.
Should Paly win that game, it will be the division's outright champion. If the Vikings lose, the teams will share the crown. No matter the outcome, Palo Alto will take the No. 1 seed into next week's league playoffs, thanks to holding a tiebreaker over Los Altos -- how the teams fared against third-place Saratoga. Paly swept the Falcons while the Eagles split.
Palo Alto's title is the third straight under head coach Erick Raich, in his third season. The Vikings have won at least 20 games in each of those campaigns.
Trailing 3-0 heading into the top of the fourth, Paly got a bad-hop single by Lonsky and a single by Isaac Feldstein. Justin Grey faked a bunt, then chopped an RBI single past the shortstop for a 3-1 game. Jack Witte walked to load the bases with two outs, bringing the dangerous B.J. Boyd to the plate. Before Boyd got a chance to perhaps tie the game or give Paly the lead, Grey was picked off second by Los Altos pitcher Luke Wiechec to end the threat.
Despite that deflating ending, the Vikings bounced back in the fifth. Braff singled to left field and, with two out, Lonsky ripped a towering home run over the wall in left-center field -- well beyond the 345-foot sign to tie the game at 3.
Consecutive singles by Alec Wong, Witte and Boyd in the sixth loaded the bases with no outs for Braff, who singled in two runs for a 5-3 lead. A sacrifice fly by Isaac Feldstein later in the inning made it 6-3. Witte ripped an RBI triple in the top of the seventh and Braff doubled him home to wrap things up at 8-3.
Palo Alto escaped a potential big inning by Los Altos in the bottom of the fifth after the Eagles loaded the bases with none out. Rohit Ramkumar relieved Danny Erlich and induced a groundout with no runs scoring. John Dickerson came on to relieve Ramkumar and face the dangerous Wiechec, who grounded to first baseman Jack Cleasby, who bobbled the ball before tagging the base for a second out. The Los Altos runner at third was slow to react and headed to the plate late, with Cleasby firing home to Lonsky, who tagged out the runner to complete an inning-ending double play.
Senior Ben Sneider, who was the schedule pitcher for Friday's game, came on in relief in the bottom of the sixth and retired the four hitters he faced to preserve the victory.
In the West Bay Athletic League, Menlo School strengthened its hold on first place with a 7-0 victory over host Pinewood in a game that was delayed more than 30 minutes due to a gas leak in the snack shack.
Jake Batchelder got the Knights (5-0, 14-7) rolling with a three-run homer in the top of the first to provide himself with all the runs he would need. The Davidson-bound senior finished with a complete-game six-hitter, striking out eight while walking none.
Batchelder had two singles later in the game while sophomores Will King and Sam Crowder contributed a pair of hits each.
Menlo opened a two-game lead in the WBAL thanks to Sacred Heart Prep's 2-1 loss at King's Academy on Wednesday. The Gators fell to 3-2 in league (12-9-1 overall) while King's moved into a tie for second, also at 3-2.
In the PAL Bay Division, host Menlo-Atherton remained in the thick of the race with an 11-2 triumph over Hillsdale. Ryan Cortez got the win and plenty of support as Dylan Cook had three hits, including a double, and drove in three runs. The Bears pounded out 14 hits and improved to 7-2 in league (17-5 overall).
Menlo School successfully defended its West Bay Athletic League title with a 196-231 victory over King's Academy on Wednesday at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club. The Knights finished 9-1.
Senior Will Petit played the No. 1 spot for Menlo on Senior Day and shot a 41 with birdies on the par-3 second hole and par-5 seventh hole. Senior Jackson Dean shot a 38 in the second spot for Menlo and fired five pars and a birdie on holes 4 through 8.
Junior Andrew Buchanan earned medalist honors by shooting a 1- under-par 34. Freshman Ethan Wong shot a 39 with six pars and Junior Max Garnick started slowly at 6- over after three holes but rallied to shoot 3-over on the last six holes.
In another WBAL season-ending match, Sacred Heart Prep sophomore Bradley Knox made his third birdie of the round on the par-5 ninth hole to wrap up a 1-under-par 35 and lead Gators to a 196-203 win over Pinewood at Palo Alto Muni.
SHP, which finished second at 8-2, also got a strong showing from senior Zach Lamb (38).
Next up for the Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo will be the WBAL Championships next Wednesday at San Juan Oaks in Hollister. The top team and top three individuals from the league tournament will advance to the CCS Regionals at Rancho CaĆ±ada the week of May 8th.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division, Palo Alto wrapped up the division title by defeating rival Gunn, 193-196, at Palo Alto Muni to improve to 10-1. Freshman Alex Hwang led the Vikings with a 37. Gunn finished 9-3, needing a victory to force a tie for the title.
The top four golfers from each team were within a stroke of each other, with Palo Alto holding a four-stroke lead and the final group approaching the ninth hole. Paly's Annie Chen, from approximately 125 yards out, hit a beautiful shot within two feet of the hole. She made her putt for a 42 and put the finishing touches on a championship day while members of both teams applauded.
The Vikings wrapped up their season on Thursday with a makeup match against Mountain View.
Palo Alto bounced back from the disappointing news last week that it would forfeit six matches due to an ineligible player, and posted a 12-8 victory over visiting Pioneer to keep its SCVAL De Anza Division playoff hopes alive.
The Vikings, who would have been 10-1 in league without the forfeits, are now 4-7 (6-9 overall) with three league matches remaining. Next up will be a home match against fourth-place Los Gatos on Friday at 7 p.m.
Despite a steady rain in the second half and missing numerous players to illness and injury, the Vikings moved comfortably ahead when goals by Simone Buteau, Emy Kelty and Anna Marie Drez pushed their lead to 8-4.
Drez scored a career-high three goals while Allie Peery had a career-best two. Kelty and Charlotte Biffar finished with two goals while goalie Emma Beckstrom made eight saves. Captain Kimmie Flather won eight draws for Paly while the team's underclassmen stepped up their games while contributing to the victory.
The Sacred Heart Prep boys and girls finished off a third straight unbeaten dual-meet season in the WBAL as each team won a double dual over King's Academy and host Harker on Wednesday.
Getting a pair of victories from sophomore Ally Howe in the 200 free (1:52.15) and 100 back (55.59), the SHP girls defeated Harker, 100-70, and King's Academy, 92-78, to finish 10-0.
In the boys' competition, SHP's Tom Kremer ripped off a 1:41.50 win in the 200 free and anchored the 400 free relay to victory in 3:19.90 as the Gators beat Harker, 111-58, and topped King's Academy, 104.5-62.5.
Sacred Heart Prep will host the WBAL Championships on May 4, beginning at 4 p.m.
Menlo School swept the WBAL singles and doubles championships on the second day of the league's individual tournament at Menlo.
Knights' freshman Victor Pham defeated Sacred Heart Prep's Nick Pizzuti, 6-2, 6-2, in the singles finals. Pham had blanked Sacred Heart Prep's Cameron Kirkpatrick, 6-0, 6-0, in the semifinals, and Pizzuti had topped Graham Keystone of Crystal Springs, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, in the other semifinal.
In doubles, Menlo's duo of juniors Michael Hoffman and William Boyd took a 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory over Harker's Derek Tzeng and Chris Chang to earn the crown.
Menlo (21-0) awaits the draw at Monday's Central Coast Section seeding meeting. The Knights are the defending champs and will be looking for an unprecedented 11th section crown.
At the PAL Individual Tournament at Burlingame, Menlo-Atherton's tandem of seniors Matt Giordano and Zeke Brown earned a shot at defending their doubles title by posting a 6-3, 6-0 victory in the semifinals. The Bears' duo won their quarterfinal match, 6-3, 6-0.
M-A sophomore Nick Fratt was beaten in the singles semifinals, 6-4, 6-2. Teammate Richie Sarwal lost in the quarterfinals.
Pat Bruni produced 14 kills and Justin Morris had 21 assists to pace Sacred Heart Prep to a 25-16, 26-24, 17-25, 25-22 victory over host Wilcox in a SCVAL El Camino Division match on Wednesday.
Ian Bennett added 12 kills and 12 assists while Austin Baloff had seven blocks and six kills for the Gators (5-4, 7-7).
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