When Palo Alto won 19-4 against Saratoga on Thursday afternoon, it looked like the Vikings had a great shot to take the best-of-three SCVAL De Anza Division playoff championship.
With a tired pitching staff and a stagnant offense attack, Paly fell behind Saratoga early and could never recover, losing to the Falcons 13-4.
"When adversity strikes we just haven't been very good this year," Paly head coach Erick Raich said. "Offensively, we didn't hunt fastballs very well. We were pretty passive at the plate."
Even with the loss, Paly still has enough points to secure a spot in the upcoming CCS playoffs. Raich said after the game that he intends to move his squad up to the very competitive Open Division.
For Saratoga, defeating Paly clinched a De Anza Division co-championship. The Falcons share the honor with Los Gatos, which won the regular-season title.
Against the Vikings, starting pitcher Eric Ferguson paced Saratoga with five solid innings on the mound, while Jacob Marr and Tyler Plesse led the Falcons' offense by knocking in three runs apiece.
"They did a better job of throwing strikes, they did a better job of playing catch, and they did a better job of hunting fastballs," Raich said of the Falcons. "If you do those three things the majority of the time you're going to be successful."
Paly was led offensively by senior catcher Austin Kron, who belted two home runs to center field. Junior Phil Lewis and senior Noah Philips both added two hits, as well, for the Vikings.
"I wasn't surprised at all by it," Paly senior Jack Cleasby said of Kron's two homers. "He's always had the power, and he's done it in practice. It was great to see."
After Thursday's contest in which Saratoga was seemingly demoralized right from the start, it was important that on Friday the Falcons got some early momentum on their side. Plesse provided just that, as the senior hit a solo home run to left-center field in the second inning to put his team up 1-0.
The very next inning, Saratoga was able to break the game wide open against Paly starting pitcher Brian Kannappan. Jacob Marr led off the inning with a double down the right field line, Derek Sun followed up with a single, and Paly decided to intentionally walk Thomas Alexander to load the bases with nobody out.
The Falcons made the most of the opportunity, as the next five batters each singled against three different Vikings pitchers. The final hit in the streak belonged to Ferguson, whose two-run single gave Saratoga a commanding 7-0 lead.
Kron hit a solo home run for Paly in the fifth inning and a two-run shot in the sixth inning, but the Falcons made sure that the Vikings could not come back by scoring three runs of their own in both the fifth and six innings to close out the victory.
"Tip my hat to (Saratoga), they're a pretty good offensive club and they did a good job throughout keeping their foot on the gas," Raich said.
The CCS playoffs will start next Wednesday for Paly, and the Vikings are anxiously awaiting a first-round opponent. One thing Paly knows for sure is they will have no easy matchups in the Open Division.
"There's nothing but great teams, and we are up for the challenge," Cleasby said. "But we know we can swing the bats. We know our pitchers can pitch. I think if we can just put everything together we're a great team ourselves and we can make a run during CCS."
Menlo-Atherton's three-run seventh-inning rally fell 90 feet short on Friday afternoon as the Bears lost to Menlo School, 7-6, in the championship game of the inaugural PAL postseason tournament. The defeat dropped M-A's season record to 16-12-1, while Menlo improved to 17-12.
Both teams will now prepare for this week's CCS playoffs.
After the Bears scored a run in the top of the first, the Knights struck for four in the bottom half of the inning aided by a walk and an error by M-A.
The Bear's clawed back with single tallies in the second and fifth to make it a 4-3 game heading into the bottom of the sixth. Menlo then exploded for four runs, keyed by Antonio Lopez's two-out, two-run single off the first baseman's glove.
Trailing 7-3 in the top of the seventh inning, the Bears roared back as five consecutive batters reached base. Charlie Cain ignited the rally with a single to left, and Erik Amundson followed with another single. A walk to Lawson Joos loaded the bases, and consecutive walks to Jordan Long and Brett Moriarty made it 7-5. Daniel Kollar-Gasiewski's sacrifice fly cut Menlo's lead to 7-6 with just one out, but the Bears were unable to draw any closer as Menlo's Lopez struck out the last two hitters to preserve the Knights' victory and the first PAL tournament championship in league history.
Long (1-1) took the loss for M-A, allowing five runs (just one earned) on four hits and three walks, striking out two. After surrendering four runs in the first inning, Long shut out Menlo over the next four innings until yielding a leadoff single in the sixth that eventually resulted in a Menlo run (unearned). The Knights added two more unearned runs in the sixth inning against the Bears' bullpen.
M-A outhit Menlo 8-to-5, led by Cain's 2-for-2 performance (the Bears' right fielder also had an RBI sacrifice fly). Amundson, Max Gardiner, Long, Moriarty, Kollar-Gasiewski, and Matt Johnston also had base hits for M-A.
by Bob Moriarty and Menlo Athletics