|Perhaps it was only fitting that Freddy Avis recorded the final out in Palo Alto National’s 3-2 tournament-clinching victory over Alpine/West Menlo.
Avis carried Palo Alto through most of the District 52 Majors 11-12 All-Star Tournament with his bat, pitched a complete-game to force a challenge game Monday and sparkled in the field Tuesday to lead his team all the way through the consolation bracket to the title.
Even more important, Avis’ father Greg, an assistant coach, witnessed it all. As an 11-year old, Avis threw a gem to lead Palo Alto to the district title, but father Greg was attending the Tour de France overseas. He sought constant updates on the telephone but missed out on experiencing first-hand a major baseball moment for his son.
This time, Greg Avis saw his son help make Palo Alto history. This team became the first Palo Alto 11-12 squad to win the District title in 11 years.
“It was nice to be here,” Greg Avis said with a smile. “We beat a really good team tonight.”
In a harsh twist of fate, Palo Alto became the first team since Alpine in 2001 to make it all the way through the consolation bracket and win the championship. What makes it more remarkable was Palo Alto, like Alpine five years ago, lost its opening game and then had to win eight straight, including five in five days.
“We did it in 2001 and I knew Palo Alto was the team that could do it this year,” Alpine manager Dave Denier said. “They’re a really talented club.”
Building almost immediately on the momentum from Monday’s 9-1 victory, Palo Alto scored three runs in the bottom of the first, all with two out.
Catcher Jordan Piha knocked in a run with a double and Jack Smale followed with a two-run double.
Meanwhile, Graham Marchant settled down after allowing the first two runners to reach base, retiring 11 of 12 batters at one point. He ran into trouble in the fifth inning, loading the bases with no out and Alpine’s formidable top-of-the-order looming.
But he but struck out Sam Falkenhagen and then induced two groundballs to end the threat with only one run allowed and Palo Alto clinging to a 3-2 lead that it never relinquished.
“When I noticed the top of the order was coming up, it freaked me out,” Marchant said. “But after I struck him out, I felt a lot more confident. Our defense is so good I can just let them put the ball in play.”
When Avis stepped on second after receiving a throw from shortstop Austin Braff to record a force out and retire the last batter, the Palo Alto National players collapsed into a huge collective dogpile.
After all, some of the players admitted they felt a little pressure after having captured the district titles in each of the last two years as 10 and 11-year olds.
“The kids believed,” Palo Alto manager Dave Goldman said. “This is a really resilient bunch.”
Avis finished the tournament as Palo Alto’s leading hitter. He hit .542 (13-for-24) with three home runs and a tournament-high 11 RBI. He also made several stellar plays at second base Tuesday, robbing two Alpine players of hits with his quick reflexes and soft hands.
Palo Alto will play Newark, the District 14 champion, Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. in an opening-round game of the double-elimination Section 3 Tournament, also hosted at Middlefield Ballpark.
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