Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 28, 2010

Championship game good day for Knights

Menlo goes after its fourth section crown against No. 16-seeded Hillsdale after surviving semifinal

by Keith Peters

Menlo School baseball coach Craig Schoof does not possess a crystal ball, nor does he read cards or palms. But, Schoof knows something about the Central Coast Section Division III championship game that is irrefutable.

"I guarantee you," Schoof said, "the Knights are going to be CCS champions."

What Schoof doesn't know is whether it will be the Hillsdale Knights or his Menlo Knights. That will be decided when No. 16 seed Hillsdale (19-11) meets No. 3 Menlo (24-6) at San Jose Municipal Stadium on Saturday at 1 p.m.

Just based on the seedings, this has all the markings of a David vs. Goliath kind of game.

This will be Menlo's fourth appearance in the finals, with the Knights winning all three previous games. This will be Hillsdale's first time in a championship game.

The teams met earlier this season with Menlo romping to a 24-3 blowout on March 18. It was, and still is, Hillsdale's worst loss of the season. Menlo sophomore Dylan Mayer blasted a grand slam and a three-run homer in that contest as Menlo produced 23 hits and held Hillsdale to just four.

"The players are very aware of the first game," said Schoof, who team also beat Hillsdale ace Greg Hansen that day in Atherton. "Good or bad, we will wait and see. But, psychologically, I would rather be in our shoes than theirs. We know we can score runs and can beat them. But, really, all it means was on that day we were the better team.

"It was a couple of months ago. I know we are a much better team today and i am sure they are, too. As I always say in baseball, on any given day the best team doesn't win. You just have to be good enough to win. Anyone who gets this far is good enough to win!"

Menlo, which has won 13 straight, certainly is good enough to win it all. The Knights rallied to beat No. 15 Sacred Heart Cathedral, 4-3, on Wednesday in Atherton. Hillsdale played a day earlier and upset No. 4 Soledad, 3-1. Hillsdale earlier upset No. 1 Scotts Valley in the opening round, 8-7, before upending No. 8 Santa Cruz in the quarterfinals, 11-5. Thus, Hillsdale has cleared away much of the toughest competition for Menlo, which beat the No. 14, No. 6 and No. 15 teams to get here.

"The kids have pointed to this since the start of the season," Schoof said.

Menlo nearly didn't advance while having its hands full with SH Cathedral, a team that beat Hillsdale, 6-2, to open the season. Menlo had only one infield single during the first five innings and trailed by two runs at one point.

But, Schoof said, "I don't think the kids ever felt they were out of the game."

It took a bases-loaded, two-run single by senior Matt Crowder with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning to carry the host Knights to victory.

"It was pretty tense," Crowder said of the Menlo dugout before his game-winning hit. "I felt more nervous when I was standing in the dugout."

While Crowder said he once stole home to end a game, but that Wednesday's hit was something special.

"This was the biggest hit in my career," he admitted.

Despite trailing 3-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth, Menlo battled back. The Knights scored once in the fourth to make it a 3-2 game and then staged their dramatic rally in the seventh. Sophomore Freddy Avis led off with walk and junior Robert Wickers, after showing bunt, slapped a single. Senior Jackson Badger then put down what should have been a sacrifice bunt, but no one covered first base and all runners were safe.

Crowder came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. The Knights had the heart of their lineup coming up with Stanford-bound Danny Diekroeger and junior Jake Bruml, so the outlook was still positive if Crowder didn't deliver. Crowder, however, took matters into his own hands and lined a single up the middle. Pinch-runner Jordan Winawer easily scored from third and Wickers was waved home from second — sliding safely with the winning run.

The Menlo dugout erupted as players poured out and celebrated, as if they had won a CCS title. Perhaps they had after surviving their closest game since a one-run loss to Sacred Heart prep on April 16.

Menlo was held to one infield hit for five innings by Anthony Villamore, a first-team All-West Catholic Athletic League pitcher who struck out eight but did walk five and hit one.

Menlo sophomore Jake Batchelder weathered a 31-pitch first inning during which the Irish scored once on a passed ball. He got out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing a fly ball to left.

The Knights tied it in the bottom of the first after Phil Anderson was hit by a pitch and Crowder was credited with an infield single when the second baseman slipped while trying to throw him out. After Diekroeger flied out and the runners moved up on a wild pitch, Bruml brought home Anderson with a sacrifice fly.

Sacred Heart scored single runs in the second and fourth while Menlo was still looking for a hit. The Knights got to within 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth without the benefit of a hit. Crowder and Diekroeger walked and, after two strikeouts and a wild pitch had moved the runners up, senior Clay Robbins lined a hard grounder at the SHC third baseman, who bobbled the ball. That allowed Crowder to score, but Diekroeger was caught between second and third and tagged out.

Menlo got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fifth when the SHC runner at second was picked off by Batchelder. Instead of trying to tag out the runner, Diekroeger threw home to Badger, who tagged out a sliding Dominic Defiesta for the rally-killing out.

Batchelder left after five innings and 103 pitches, but Bruml limited the Irish to just a pair of hits and no runs the final two innings to set the stage for the Knights' dramatic comeback.

That would be the Menlo Knights.

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