|With two rounds of the Palo Alto Little League City Championship tournament in the books, a pair of teams have slipped into the driver's seat in a double-elimination event that has all the signs of a championship up for grabs.
Third-seeded PASCO (16-5) and fifth-seeded Tickets Express (13-8) both won on Sunday in important contests that highlighted a full day of action at Middlefield Park.
PASCO rode the right arm of Peter Verheckee and timely hitting from Ben Ferkol to a 1-0 upset win over second-seeded Sport Shop while Tickets Express needed the hot bat of 11-year old Michael Strong, who went from soccer field to baseball diamond, to upset top-seeded Bike Connection, 6-3.
PASCO and Tickets Express will meet Tuesday at Middlefield Park at 6 p.m. to determine who gets the upper hand heading into this weekend's championship showdowns.
In losers'-bracket action on Tuesday, Bike Connection plays Palo Alto Lions at Hoover Field at 5:30 p.m., while Masonic plays Sport Shop at Middlefield at 3:45 p.m. Tuesday's losers will be eliminated, while the winners advanced to elimination games Thursday.
Thursday's games at Middlefield Park feature an elimination game at 3:45 p.m. and a winners'- bracket matchup at 6 p.m. The championship game is set for Saturday at 2 p.m. If necessary, a challenge championship contest would take place on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Two-time defending city champion In2Change didn't qualify for this season's tournament.
In two losers'-bracket games on Sunday, No. 4 Lions (10-11) nipped No. 8 Venture Partners, 1-0, while No. 7 Masonic (10-11) got by No. 6 Alhouse, 5-4.
Sunday's big surprise featured Tickets Express' win over Bike Connection (16-5), which claimed the regular-season title and beat Tickets Express three times during the regular season.
Strong hit home runs in each of his first two at bats, driving in five runs for Tickets Express. That gave Alec Wong all the support he would need in pitching the complete game.
"We always have good matchups with Bike Connection and Strong and Wong were fabulous," said Tickets Express coach Alex Byer, former baseball coach at Cupertino High. "The tournament has a lot more parity this year."
Tickets Express jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Bike Connection in the first inning thanks to a two-run homer from Strong to left center that scored center fielder Brian Kannappan ahead of him. Kannappan singled earlier in the inning.
The left-handed hitting Strong, who was late after competing in a soccer match, then blasted his sixth homer of the season -- a three-run shot down the right-field line in the second as Tickets Express scored four runs on four hits in the frame for a commanding six-run edge.
Wong added an RBI single that scored catcher Nick Wells, who had singled.
Wong scattered eight hits and struck out four for the win. Wells added two hits for Tickets Express, which banged out eight hits.
Pitcher Jack Witte tripled and first baseman Andrew Ball doubled for Bike Connection, and third baseman Alec Furrier had two hits, including a double.
With both pitchers at their best, offensive production was at a premium for both PASCO and Sport Shop.
PASCO pushed across the lone run in the fourth inning as Ferkol came off the bench to deliver a clutch RBI single to plate Clark Schmutz, who singled to lead off the frame and advanced on a pair of wild pitches.
That's all the support Verheckee would need as the tall right-hander mixed speeds and kept the ball down in the zone. Verheckee pitched a two-hitter, recording 10 strikeouts.
Sport Shop got the leadoff hitter on base in four of six innings, but was unable to produce any serious threats.
Tough-luck loser Isaac Feldstein pitched a five-hitter for Sport Shop with six strikeouts.
In opening-round action on Saturday, Sport Shop defeated Masonic, 10-5, while PASCO came from behind to down Alhouse, 8-6. Tickets Express drubbed Lions, 14-9, and Bike Connection pulled out a slim 9-8 victory over Venture Partners, 9-8.
Jack Larson pitched a one-hitter, striking out 14 and not walking a batter, helping to lead Brix to the league championship with a 6-0 victory over Cashin on Saturday at Burgess Park.
Larson helped his own cause with a two-run single during a four-run rally in the fifth inning. Campbell Rollige and Kari Newman also drove in runs in the frame.
Matt Campbell and the Palo Alto Oaks continued its early summer roll with a doubleheader sweep, 15-0 and 10-0, of the Seaside Bombers on Sunday at Baylands Athletic Center.
Campbell (2-0) pitched a two-hitter to record his 26th consecutive win in the three-plus years he's been with the Oaks.
Palo Alto grad Mark Wells (1-0) pitched a one-hitter in the nightcap, coming within one strike of recording a no-hitter.
The Oaks host the San Jose Brewers in a doubleheader on Sunday at Baylands at 11:30 a.m.
Chris Budelli combined for five hits and five RBI in the two games, while Sean Scott had five hits and drove in three runs.
Shane Parsons had three hits and drove in two runs in the first game while Andrew Smith added two hits and two RBI. Nathan Ford also recorded two hits.
Ford drove in two runs on two hits in the second game. Tommie Bommarito and Chris Armanino each added a pair of hits.
Wells carried a no-hitter into the fifth (and final) inning, but gave up an infield single with two outs.
Palo Alto swept a doubleheader, 12-1 and 11-1, from host Pacifica on Saturday to extend its season opening winning streak to five.
Stephen Burk hit a home run and drove in three runs in the first game, supporting his own cause on the mound. Blaine Marchant had two hits and drove in three runs.
Kevin Dexter was the beneficiary of Palo Alto's offensive explosion in the second game. Tucker Laurence had three hits while Evan Warner, Jon Koepfgen and Kyle Einfalt each had two hits.
With just five games remaining in the Palo Alto Babe Ruth regular season, the race for first place has heated up. The four teams at the top of the standings played each other this past weekend and when the dust cleared three teams were tied for first and one very close behind.
Old Pro beat Alhouse-King Realty, 11-1, leaving both teams with 9-4 records. Advanced Technology Ventures (ATV) beat Corium International, 14-3, allowing ATV to keep pace with the league leaders with a 9-4 record while Corium dropped to 8-5.
If the top four win during the week, another weekend of showdowns will be set. Corum will face Alhouse on Saturday at Palo Alto High at 1:30 p.m. and ATV will take on Old Pro at Baylands at 7 p.m.
The regular-season will wrap up on June 21, followed by the annual City Tournament.
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