The Palo Alto girls' lacrosse team took a very big step toward clinching the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League regular-season title by holding off visiting St. Francis, 8-6, on Thursday night. The Vikings improved to 10-0 in league (12-1 overall) while overcoming the last big obstacle in league play with only four matches remaining.
In a game filled with steals and sprints, Paly set the tone early on with an interception and goal by senior Charlotte Biffar. Also from the start, Paly played a tight and aggressive defense, closely guarding St. Francis' top players and holding the Lancers to only one score in the second half.
While Paly's entire defensive squad played tougher than in previous matches, standout performances came from goalie Emma Beckstrom, with six saves, and from Olivia Cornfield, who led in ground-ball controls. Beckstrom's most dramatic save came with 1:35 minutes left when she blocked a free-position shot by J J Jordan, a top St. Francis scorer. Beckstrom just returned from injury, which prevented her from playing in the Vikings' only loss of the season, last week to St. Ignatius.
Although Paly found the back of the net first, the Lancers moved aggressively and won the next three goals. The rest of the first half was back-and-forth, with the scoreboard showing a 5-5-tie at the half.
Moving fast and with fervor, Paly took control in the second half, with goals by seniors Biffar, Nina Kelty and Gigi Lucas-Conwell. Adding to the excitement, Paly intercepted St. Francis' passes five times and sparked turnovers seven times during the match.
Biffar finished with three goals while Simone Buteau added two to pace the Vikings, who will host perennial power Menlo School on Saturday in nonleague action at 5 p.m.
In other SCVAL action, Gunn posted a 15-6 win over visiting Sequoia to improve to 7-2 in league (9-3-1 overall). The Titans will host Palo Alto on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.
Gunn senior Claire Klausner struck out 12 and limited visiting Santa Clara to just three hits in an 8-1 nonleague victory Thursday. Klausner lost her no-hitter to a Bruins' single in the top of the sixth. The Titans (9-10) broke open a close game with a five-run fifth. Emma Wager had a two-run double to get the inning rolling for Gunn.
Menlo School wrapped up its 17th straight undefeated league season in coach Bill Shine's 17 years at school with a 7-0 victory over host Harker in West Bay Athletic League action Thursday. The Knights are 194-0 in league matches since 1997 while the senior class improved to 102-2 overall.
Menlo will host the WBAL Individual Tournament on Tuesday and Wednesday before beginning its quest to win its 12th Central Coast Section team crown starting May 1.
The Knights, however, will not have any entrants in the WBAL or CCS individual tournaments (starting May 15).
Menlo, along with Harker and a handful of other teams, are serving a one-year CCS ban after violating a section rule last year. The ban was handed down then.
The rule states the CCS office must be notified 24 hours in advance of a player withdrawing from the section individual tournament. Shine had a doubles player suffer a twisted ankle and was a few hours late in notifying the CCS of the withdrawal.
"It's not that big of deal to use since we're more team-oriented," Shine said.
Shine decided that if his players weren't eligible for the CCS individual tournament, then he wouldn't have any entrants in the WBAL event -- a qualifier for the section tourney.
While Menlo usually dominates the WBAL tourney and swept the singles and doubles crowns in 2012, that won't happen next week. In the CCS individual tourney, the Knights last won honors in 2010 when Justin Chan and Andrew Carlisle captured the doubles title. The Knights had finalists in doubles the past two seasons, both teams falling.
Menlo's focus, however, has been on the CCS and NorCal team tournaments and thus the exclusion from the individual events aren't that penalizing.
"The CCS individual tournament isn't what it used to be," Shine said. "A lot of players are busy that week. The last few years a lot of players pulled out at the last second."
In the PAL Bay Division, host Menlo-Atherton put the finishing touches on a fifth straight division title with a 7-0 victory over El Camino. The Bears (13-1, 19-2), who have won 70 of their past 71 league matches, next will compete in the PAL Individual Tournament before heading to the CCS team playoffs.