Menlo School baseball coach Craig Schoof should be feeling pretty good following the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division III playoffs. A path to the finals has been cleared for his Knights once again.
If history is any indication, Sacred Heart Prep's 6-5 upset of top-seeded Palma on Wednesday has opened the door for Menlo.
Last year, Palma also was seeded No. 1 but lost in the second round to Santa Cruz. Menlo wound up beating Santa Cruz in the championship game, 4-0.
In 2010, Scotts Valley was the No. 1 seed and lost its opener to Hillsdale, which advanced to the championship game. There, Hillsdale fell to Menlo, 8-2.
And, in 2004, Carmel was the No. 1 seed in Division III but lost to Scotts Valley in the semifinals. In the championship game, Menlo topped Scotts Valley, 7-5.
Second-seeded Menlo (20-7) is now the highest remaining seed and is two wins away from reaching the finals for a third straight year. The Knights need to beat No. 7 San Lorenzo Valley (15-7) on Saturday to earn a semifinal date against either No. 3 Monte Vista Christian or No. 6 Monterey.
In the bottom half of the bracket, No. 16 Sacred Heart Prep is matched against No. 9 Pacific Grove (17-10) in Saturday's quarterfinals. The other game has No. 4 Soqual (16-10) against No. 5 Carmel (19-9). Those winners meet Tuesday in the semifinals.
If Sacred Heart Prep advances to the finals to meet Menlo, it will be their first championship matchup since 1989 when the Knights won the 2A Division crown.
The Gators were a huge underdog to No. 1 Palma on Wednesday in the opening round of the playoffs. That obvious disadvantage didn't seem to bother the Gators, who pulled the upset of the tournament over the host Chieftans (21-6). The Gators got a 90-pitch, complete-game victory from Tyler Vau Dell and four RBI from Joey Papangellin, who had a bases-clearing double in the fifth inning to give SHP a 6-4 lead. Matt Martella had three hits while Mike Covell, Luke Thomas and Nick Sinchek all contributed two hits for the Gators.
In Atherton, Freddy Avis hit a pair of home runs to pace Menlo School to a 10-0 victory over St. Thomas More in five innings to open the playoffs. Davidson-bound senior lefthander Jake Batchelder threw the third CCS no-hitter in Menlo history. Andy Suiter vs. King's Academy in 2005 and Jake Bruml last year against Sacred Heart Cathedral had the others. Batchelder struck out seven and walked three in the five-inning complete-game effort. Batchelder also was a star at the plate as he doubled in the first run in first and knocked another in the third on a groundout.
The real hitting stars for the Knights were Avis and Mikey Diekroeger. Diekroeger got Menlo going with a leadoff line drive home run in the third to put the Knights up 2-0. That was one of his three hit on the afternoon. Avis then hit two titantic blasts, the last estimated at over 400 feet.
In Division I action, Ozzie Braff belted a three-run homer to spark Palo Alto to a 9-0 victory over No. 16 seed Evergreen Valley in the opening round. B.J. Boyd, Clay Carey and Christian Lonsky all had two hits for the Vikings, who belted out 12 hits. Paly used four pitchers who combined on a three-hitter, with starter Kevin Kannappan getting the win with three innings.
The No. 1 seed Vikings (26-6) next will play No. 8 Bellarmine (15-14), a 6-3 winner over No. 9 Santa Teresa, in Saturday's quarterfinals.
In other Division I action, Menlo-Atherton gave up four runs in the second inning on five hits, a walk and an error and couldn't make up the deficit while dropping a 7-1 decision to host Mitty. The No. 6-seeded Monarchs (17-12) wrapped things up in the fifth by scoring three runs on a hit batter, a walk, two singles and a sacrifice fly.
M-A senior Nick Lange (7-3) pitched a complete game while allowing eight hits, but couldn't get the offensive support he needed. The Bears (19-9) got their lone run in the third when Ryan Cortez walked, advanced to second on a single by Will Lyons, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a groundout by Erik Amundson. A double by Sam Falkenhagen in the fifth went for naught when a strikeout ended the threat.
Castilleja saw its season end in a 14-0 loss to host and No. 4 seed Notre Dame-Salinas in a CCS Division III opener on Wednesday that was shortened to five innings by the 10-run mercy rule. Frances Hughes had the only hit for the No. 13 Gators (11-16), a single in the first inning. Senior Aryana Yee struck out seven in her final game.
Menlo School juniors William Boyd and Michael Hoffman finished second in the doubles portion of the CCS Individual Tournament that wrapped up Wednesday at Imperial Courts in Aptos. Boyd and Hoffman, the No. 4 seed, reached the finals by upending No. 2-seeded Nick Chu and Rohan Shankar of Bellarmine, 6-2, 6-1, but fell in the title match to the No. 3-seeded team of Anthony Bello and Spencer Simonides of Los Altos, 6-1, 6-3.