Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - July 30, 2010

Oaks, Legends make pitch for playoff championships

by Keith Peters

Palo Alto Oaks' manager Steve Espinoza and Menlo Park Legends' manager David Klein know something their respective teams will have going for them beginning Friday when both compete in tournaments.

Espinoza knows his squad will have plenty of pitching available for the West Region Tournament, which could last five games, after watching the Oaks win five straight last weekend without their No. 1 pitcher.

Klein knows his team has to be better for a playoff game Friday night than the one that dropped an 11-0 decision to the San Francisco Seagulls on Wednesday to wrap up the Pacific West Baseball League season.

The Legends (19-5, 35-9) will open PWBL playoff action on Friday against the host Atwater Aviators at 7:30 p.m. Menlo Park split a doubleheader with Atwater last weekend in the Central Valley, but the Legends did win the second game, 9-2, if that counts for anything.

The Menlo Park-Atwater winner will play Saturday at 2:30 p.m., with that winner advancing to Sunday's championship game at 7 p.m.

Espinoza, meanwhile, hopes his Palo Alto Oaks are not playing on Sunday. He would prefer an easier route, especially after winning five straight games last weekend to claim the 2010 AABC NorCal State Championship in Santa Rosa.

Palo Alto accomplished that without No. 1 pitcher Matt Campbell, who was away on vacation. He'll be available starting Friday when the Oaks open the West Region Tournament against the Oakland Expos at Menlo College at 10 a.m.

That winner will face the NorCal Longhorns-Pasadena Redbirds winner at Canada College at 2 p.m. First-round losers will play at Menlo at 2 p.m.

Two victories by the Oaks will put them in Saturday's championship game, also at Canada College, at 2 p.m. A challenge game, if necessary, will be played at Canada on Sunday at 2 p.m.

Espinoza has the pitching and personnel to get the job done in three games. Should that happen, the Oaks will qualify for the World Series later next month in Huntsville, Texas.

Espinoza's pitching staff includes Campbell, Palo Alto High grad Jason Kleinhoffer, Brant Norlander, Blake McFarland, Tyler Christian, Jason Kafka, Greg Matson, Ricky Navarro and Tyler Duran.

All but Campbell saw action last weekend as the Oaks (17-1-2) went 5-0 and won the NorCal State title for the first time since 2005.

The Oaks' Allen Stiles was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Stiles had 11 hits, scored 10 runs, drove in five and had three doubles while hitting better than .500. Stiles also stole a bunch of bases and drove in a game-tying run and a game-winning run.

The Oaks opened last weekend's tourney with an 8-4 win over the Novato Knicks and followed that with a 3-1 victory over the Sacramento Scorch. Game 3 saw the Oaks post a 7-4 triumph over Fontanetti's while the semifinals turned out to be a marathon 7-6 win over Santa Rosa in 13 innings.

That earned the Oaks a berth in the championship game Sunday, with Palo Alto holding on for a 9-8 triumph over the Oakland Expos.

The Oaks sent Christian to the mound to face the Expos and he gave up a couple runs in the first. As was the case throughout the tournament, the Oaks came right back and scored two of their own in the second inning. Tyler Finley, the starting catcher, delivered the big hit, a double that scored both Nick Schulz and Mike Reiling.

The Oaks took the lead with single runs in the third and fourth innings. Matson got the RBI in the fourth and Reiling scored in the fifth on an error. In the bottom of the fifth, the Expos struck back and took a 5-4 lead when a bunted ball was thrown away allowing two to score. Another run scored when a curve ball hit the front of the plate and ricocheted to the back screen.

The Oaks tied the score in the seventh when Palo Alto High grad Evan Warner led off with a single. Warner was moved to second on a bunt by Stiles. Vince Gutierrez walked to put runners on first and second. Warner then stole third to get into scoring position. Schulz then hit a chopper to the shortstop that scored Warner. The speedy Schulz also beat the throw to first.

The Expos, however, took the lead right back in the bottom of the eighth after a single, hit batter, and another single. The Oaks found themselves down a run with their last at-bat for the second time. After an out, Warner was hit by a pitch. Stiles then grounded out to the pitcher with Warner stealing on the pitch. That put Warner in scoring position with two outs. Gutierrez then walked and, after Schulz also walked, the Expos changed pitchers. With the bases loaded, the new Oakland pitcher walked Matson to tie the game. Grant Nelson then singled in a run and Reiling lined a two-run single to left-center to put Palo Alto on top, 9-6.

The Oaks needed only three outs to claim the title, but were dangerously thin in the pitching department. Reiling, the starting shortstop, came in to pitch the ninth. He promptly hit the first two batters he faced. A single by the No. 3 hitter loaded the bases for Oakland. The next batter hit a ground ball to Nelson at third, but the throw to the plate was in the dirt and everyone was safe.

Palo Alto still held a 9-7 lead, but the bases still were loaded. Reiling got ahead quickly on the No. 5 hitter before he plunked him to bring in another run. Oaks' manager Steve Espinoza quickly brought in Gunn grad Ricky Navarro from the bullpen to stem the tide.

Navarro got ahead on the count and then the miracle Oaks' fans were hoping for happened. A medium fly ball was hit to left field. Schulz made the catch and fired a strike to Finley at home in attempt to get the runner who had tagged up. Finley applied the tag to complete the double play. Navarro got the next batter to fly out in foul territory in right field and the Oaks had their championship.

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