But, the Central Coast Section playoffs are different than the regular season. It's one loss and you're out. Run into a hot pitcher? You're out. Have a bad day in the field? You're out.
The Lancers know oh so well because, well, they're out.
In what must rank as the most significant victory in Menlo-Atherton baseball history, the 14th-seeded Bears shocked third-seeded St. Francis, 9-5, in the first round of the CCS Division I playoffs on Wednesday on the Lancers' field.
The Bears used a 16-hit attack and a superb outing by starting pitcher Nils Gilbertson to defeat the highly regarded Lancers. For Menlo-Atherton, it was only its second CCS win in program history. St. Francis usually wins more than that in a single postseason.
But, not this year. With the victory, Menlo-Atherton (16-11) advances to the quarterfinals, where it will face sixth-seeded Bellarmine (18-12), a 10-0 winner over Homestead, at St. Francis on Saturday at 10 a.m.
Gilbertson shut out the potent Lancers' lineup over the first five innings, scattering five hits. Meanwhile, the Bears were building a 5-0 lead, thanks to an RBI single by Wally Hansen in the second inning (one of four hits for the senior centerfielder, who also drove in two runs), along with a two-run single by junior Chace Warren plus two unearned runs in the third.
M-A took a 7-0 lead on Warren's two-run single in the top of the sixth (his third and fourth RBIs of the game) before St. Francis began a late-game comeback that was destined to fall short.
In the bottom of the sixth, St. Francis catcher Chris Hoo belted a long homer to left-center to cut M-A's lead to 7-1. The Bears answered in the top of the seventh with an RBI triple by Hansen and a run-scoring single by Casey Eason to extend their lead to 9-1.
In the bottom of the seventh, with Gilbertson tiring after throwing 71 pitches, St. Francis cut M-A's lead to 9-3 on back-to-back homers by Kyle Macey and Dennis Duran. After Gilbertson hit leadoff hitter Braden Bishop, Patrick Moriarty was summoned from the bullpen to relieve Gilbertson.
Moriarty surrendered a single to Jon Nelson, but then struck out No. 3 hitter Tyler Goeddel on a pitch in the dirt. Cleanup hitter Alex Blandino followed with a two-run double to right-center, cutting M-A's lead to 9-5. Moriarty induced Scotty Jarvis to fly out to center, and then struck out Hoo looking on a 2-2 fastball to end the game.
This was a quintessential team win for the Bears, who received contributions from everyone on the squad. Ten different M-A players had base hits — in addition to Hansen's 4-for-4 performance, Casey Eason, Jeff Keller, and Warren enjoyed multiple-hit days with two apiece. M-A played air-tight defense, committing just one error, and the Bears laid down five successful sacrifice bunts.
In improving his season record to 8-2, Gilbertson scattered eights hits, walking none while allowing four runs, all earned. In addition to Warren's four RBI, Hansen (two RBI) and Eason (one RBI) also drove in runs for the victorious Bears.
In CCS Division III action, Menlo School opened the playoffs with a convincing 11-1 victory over visiting North Monterey County on Wednesday in a mercy rule-shortened contest. The No. 3-seeded Knights (22-6) jumped out in front in the first when, after two walks, cleanup hitter up Jake Bruml hit a tremendous three-run homer to left center.
In the second inning, Menlo added three more with the key hit being Danny Diekroeger's two-run double. Sophomore lefthander Jake Batchelder was stellar on the mound as he ran his season record to 9-0 with a five-inning complete game. He struck out six and allowed only two hits.
The Knights tacked on five runs in the bottom fourth and then ended the game in the top of the fifth by throwing out a runner at the plate on the front end of a double steal. Menlo next faces No. 6 Live Oak (17-11) on Saturday at Hartnell College in Salinas at 2 p.m. Live Oak defeated San Lorenzo Valley, 6-5.
In Soledad, No. 13 Sacred Heart Prep saw its season end in a tough 9-8 loss to No. 4 Soledad (23-4). The Gators (15-12-1) had plenty of offense with 14 hits as senior Bryan Kohrs had four of them while driving in two runs. Charlie Bradford, Ryan Lockareff and Tomas O'Donnell all had four hits while Cal Baloff drove in a pair of runs with a double in the third.
Sacred Heart Prep took an 8-6 lead with three runs in the top of the fifth, but the host team chipped away with solo runs over the next four innings to pull out the victory. John Geary and Kevin Wilkins allowed 13 hits.
Perhaps it was a good thing that Menlo School junior Patrick Grimes started his final round on the 10th hole at Rancho Canada West Golf Course on Tuesday at the CCS Championships, because it allowed him to pull off a spectacular finish to a remarkable round.
Wrapping up his round on the 485-yard par-5 ninth hole, Grimes eagled his final hole to finish with a 7-under-par 64 and a one-stroke victory. It was the lowest round ever recorded in the CCS Championships.
The triumph qualified Grimes for the CIF NorCal Championships on Monday. He'll be joined by Sacred Heart Prep sophomore Kevin Knox, whose even-par 71 was good enough for a NorCal berth. Grimes and Knox will compete for spots in the state championships when NorCals are held at the Legends West course at Diablo Grande resort in Patterson.
The sensational round by Grimes, which included no bogeys, remarkably earned him just a one-stroke victory over Skyler Finnel of R.L. Stevenson. Only five golfers broke par.
The entire Sacred Heart Prep team, meanwhile, missed advancing by just two strokes following a 376 total that left the Gators in fourth place with the same score as Carmel. Only the top three teams advanced to NorCals.
Sacred Heart had all six golfers shoot in the 70s, but it still wasn't enough. Senior Dalan Refioglu shot 73 (he missed qualifying by one shot), Jeff Knox had a 76, Brett Van Zanten carded a 77, Anthony Tran finished at 79 and Andrew Vetter holed a wedge shot for an eagle to finish with a 79. Kevin Knox had to birdie the final four holes to shoot his 71 and qualify for the next tourney.
R.L. Stevenson of Pebble Beach used its course knowledge well to win team honors at 366. Palma (Salinas) was second at 369 and St. Francis third with a 374. Menlo shot 389 and finished eighth in the eight-team event. Freshman Andrew Buchanan led the Knights with a 3-over 74. Junior MJ Cootsona shot 77.
Castilleja senior pitcher Sammy Albanese has accomplished much in her successful career, including tying a national record for most consecutive no-hitters in a season (10) and tying a state record for most strikeouts in a seven-inning game with 22. Until Wednesday, something was missing.
That was winning a CCS first-round game. Albanese secured that achievement by tossing a one-hitter and striking out 17 in a 2-0 victory over R.L. Stevenson in a Division III playoff opener in Salinas. Castilleja's only other CCS victory came in 2005.
R.L. Stevenson (19-9) came in seeded No. 6 while the Gators (18-8-2) were No. 11 in the 12-team field. Albanese, once again, proved to be the big difference as she allowed only a swinging bunt in the bottom of the seventh inning in an otherwise near-perfect outing.
Sophomore Aryana Yee had a triple and drove in both runs in the top of the seventh for Castilleja, which will face No. 3 seed Valley Christian (22-5) on Saturday in the quarterfinals at the Salinas Sports Complex at 10 a.m.
Albanese advances with an 18-3-1 record into the postseason along with 354 strikeouts (an average of 16 per seven-inning game). Her earned run average is a miniscule 0.05, which is a reflection of her 16 no-hitters and four perfect games this season.
In CCS Division I action, Gunn won its first CCS game in school history with a 7-2 triumph over No. 5 Santa Teresa (17-10). The No. 12-seeded Titans (19-9) will host No. 4 Wilcox (18-10) on Saturday in a quarterfinal game at 2 p.m.
Freshman Claire Klausner struck out 15, allowed just four hits and scored the first run. She tripled in the top of the first and scored on groundout by senior Brooke Binkley. Gunn added to its lead in the fourth with five runs. The Titans got singles from Binkley and Claire Collins plus eight stolen bases — including three thefts of home.
"We play aggressive," said Gunn coach Stephanie Swinford. "Tonight, we went after it and it paid off."
One more run on a steal in the fifth rounded out the scoring for Gunn. The only thing that prevented a shutout was a two-run homer by Santa Teresa in the bottom of the sixth.
The Saints did look like they were about to make a rally after the home run as they had a runner at first with one out, but a deep fly ball was snagged by a nice catch by Laura Kidder and then Klausner got a strikeout to end the threat.
In Salinas, Palo Alto (18-10) saw its season end when No. 9 Salinas (13-11) scored the tying run in the top of the seventh and the winning run in the eighth for a 3-1 triumph over the No. 8 Vikings in a Division I opener at the Salinas Sports Complex.
Paly grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second on an RBI single by senior pitcher Kelly Jenks, who kept Salinas off the scoreboard until the fateful seventh.
Most high school athletes at one point probably dream of hitting that game-winning homer, or scoring that game-winning touchdown or perhaps winning the final match to clinch a tennis championship.
Not everyone is as fortunate, however, as Menlo senior Jamin Ball, who was able to live out his dream last Friday by winning the final match to clinch Menlo's 4-3 victory over Saratoga in the CCS Team Tournament finale at Courtside Club in Los Gatos.
The triumph by the top-seeded Knights (24-0) keeps their perfect season intact, puts Menlo in the record book and on the road to accomplishing something unprecedented in local tennis history.
"I've thought about being in the last match," Ball said. "You always dream of winning that match. So, this is dream come true."
Ball's 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-1 victory over Saratoga's John Lamble at No. 1 singles certainly was a dream come true for the top-seeded Knights, who beat the No. 2-seeded Falcons (22-3) for the third time this season. For a while, it didn't seem possible that Menlo could pull it off.
The victory wrapped up Menlo's ninth CCS team title, tying the Knights with Gunn for the most ever in section history. Should Menlo go on to win three more matches at the NorCal Championships, Friday and Saturday, at the Natomas Racquet Club near Sacramento, the Knights will have the Grand Slam of prep tennis. No prep tennis team in Northern California has ever won a section, NorCal and National Invitational title and finished the season undefeated.