That arrived on Wednesday as the Gators upended visiting Menlo School, 6-4, in the first of two showdowns in the West Bay Athletic League this season.
"I'm not so surprised by the outcome, as I am that it all came together at once (good pitching, great defense and timely hitting)," said SHP coach Gregg Franceschi.
Sacred Heart Prep won the first meeting last season, as well, but Menlo came back to take the second as the teams shared the league title. The Knights can only hope for the same, unless the Gators trip up along the way.
There was none of that Wednesday as Sacred Heart Prep played its best game of the season at the most important time.
"Hopefully, this is the one that really gets us moving in the right direction," Franceschi said. "After a slow start, you just focus on playing better and getting back to .500 (which is where the Gators are now at 8-8). We worked out tails off getting there, but couldn't make the step to get above there and stay there. Now we are back to .500 and are focusing on playing quality baseball to stay above.
"For us, it starts with our pitching, which hasn't been very good on too many occasions. If we can't succeed there, we're forced to play from behind all the time, and that becomes draining to everyone. And, that can result in poor offensive and defensive days."
Sacred Heart Prep has had a few of those this season, especially while starting out 1-6. The Gators lost nonleague games to both Menlo-Atherton and Gunn as their pitching staff got knocked around.
"As with any team, you've got to pitch well, and either have a good day with the bats or with the gloves," Franceschi explained. "Two out of those three things will keep you in most games. One of them won't get it done and that's where we've been. Hopefully, yesterday (against Menlo) proves to us that we are capable of putting it all together and have the confidence to keep it going as it did last year."
After beating Menlo in their first meeting last season, the Gators were just 6-8-1. They took the momentum of beating the Knights and went 9-4 the rest of the season.
Menlo and Sacred Heart Prep came into Wednesday's game with 2-0 WBAL records but in two totally different frames of mind. Menlo, the defending Central Coast Section Division III champ, came in with a shiny 12-1 record and plenty of momentum, while SHP came in with a lackluster 7-8 mark.
The Gators looked like easy pickings for the Knights, but SHP junior starter Jack Larson changed all that as his off-speed pitches kept Menlo's hitters off balance all day while scattering 10 hits by the Knights.
Sacred Heart scored the tying and winning runs in the fourth and senior Tomas O'Donnell capped the scoring with a solo homer in the fifth. Menlo had taken a 4-0 lead in the top of the third.
In the bottom of the fourth, SHP's Ian Lynch had a one-out infield hit and Larson followed with a single to right. Menlo replaced starting pitcher Jake Bruml with Freddy Avis, who walked catcher Mike Covell to load the bases. Zack Buono grounded to Bruml at first and Bruml made a throwing error at home, allowing Lynch to score and tie the game at 4. Matt Martella then hit a sacrifice fly to score Larson, putting the Gators ahead by 5-4.
SHP had only six hits but Cal Baloff had a pair of RBI and the Gators played errorless ball to take control of the WBAL race at 3-0. The Knights (2-1, 12-2), who got three hits from Avis, will host SHP in the teams' second meeting on May 11.
In another WBAL game, Pinewood held on for a 7-6 victory over King's Academy on Tuesday as Zach Jones and Cyrus Chagnon combined for the win. Dante Fraioli, Josh Rose and Jones all had two hits and two RBI for the Panthers.
In San Jose, Palo Alto ended its three-game losing streak by handing Scotts Valley a 2-1 loss in the second round of the Baseball Battling Cancer Tournament at Leland High. The Vikings (12-7) will wrap up tourney play on Saturday against Soquel (4 p.m.) at Leland, before hosting Bellarmine on Monday (4 p.m.) in a nonleague makeup game.
Cory Tenanes had two hits and drove in a run against Scotts Valley, which managed just six hits off Paly's Drake Swezey, who pitched a complete game.
On Tuesday, Paly dropped a 3-0 decision to Del Mar to open the tourney. It was the first time this season the Vikings had been shut out.
In the PAL Bay Division, host Menlo-Atherton blasted itself back into the race with a 16-6 romp over Aragon on Wednesday. The teams will meet again on Friday, at Aragon.
The Bears (3-4, 9-6), who moved into a tie for fourth place with Sequoia but still have a ways to go to catch first-place El Camino (6-2), rallied from a 1-0 deficit with four runs in the bottom of the first. M-A added five more in the second to put it away.
Junior Ryan Cortez slammed a home run for one of M-A's 12 hits. Kyle Zirbes, Dylan Cook and Michael Abramson all had two hits while Cook drove in four runs. Sam Falkenhagen and Myles Brewer each added two RBI, with Brewer picking up the win while allowing just two runs in four innings.
Menlo School remained undefeated in the West Bay Athletic League as senior Patrick Grimes fired a 3-under-par 33 to lead the Knights to a 193-230 victory over Pinewood at Palo Alto Municipal on Wednesday.
Grimes had three birdies and six pars in his superlative round as Menlo improved to 8-0. The last time Grimes played on this course, he won the Titan Challenge with a 7-under 65 for 18 holes.
Menlo sophomore Andrew Buchanan continued his fine season with an even-par 36 while senior Bobby Pender shot 38. Juniors Jackson Dean and James Huber rounded out the scoring with 43s.
On Tuesday, it was cold and windy, but that didn't stop Grimes from shooting an even-par 36 on the back nine to lead the Knights to a 194-237 victory over Crystal Springs in a WBAL match at Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club. Buchanan, junior Will Petit and Pender all shot 37. Grimes just missed a birdie putt on the par-5 18th hole, but tapped in for a par to earn medalist honors.
A key hole for Grimes was the par-4 16th, an uphill dogleg right test. Grimes hit his second shot straight into a strong wind, with the ball dropping on the front edge of the green and rolling back 20 yards. Grimes nonetheless pitched to within four feet and made his par-saving putt. He finished with seven pars, one bogey and one birdie.
In another WBAL match, Sacred Heart Prep (7-1, 8-1) remained a game back of Menlo following a 214-221 victory over Harker at Menlo Country Club. Bradley Knox paced the Gators with a 4-over 39 while his brother, Kevin, shot 41.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton posted a 202-211 victory over Burlingame at Sharon Heights CC on Tuesday. Travis Anderson, David McNamara and Matt Tinyo all shot 40 to pace the Bears.
Menlo-Atherton was hoping to stage a celebration on Thursday following a home match against Aragon. The Bears were heavy favorites to win and wrap up a third straight unbeaten season in the PAL Bay Division.
Menlo-Atherton took a 13-0 division mark (15-2 overall) into its final regular-season match after beating host Mills on Tuesday, 6-1, and topping host San Mateo on Monday, 7-0.
M-A took a three-year overall record of 51-9 into the Aragon match and was expected to be 40-0 in league in that same time period by the end of the day.
The Bears already have clinched a berth in the CCS playoffs, hoping to earn a high enough seed to perhaps advance to the semifinals or finals.
Track and field
For the first time since Menlo School joined the WBAL for the 2008-09 season, both the boys and girls teams took first place in a league meet, at home on Wednesday.
It was the third WBAL meet of the season. The girls finished with 116 points, ahead of Mercy-San Francisco (83) and Pinewood (81), among six teams. The boys ran away with the team title with 216 points. The Knights' nearest competitor among the four teams was Priory (83).
In the girls' events, freshman Maddy Price won the 400 in 1:01.23 seconds and the 800 in 2:25.20. Fellow freshman Sienna Stritter took second in the 400 in 1:03.35.
Sophomore Laura Gradiska took first in the 100 hurdles in 18.19 and second in the 300 hurdles in 52.20. Price, Stritter and Gradiska teamed with sophomore Ellie Still to win the 400 relay in 51.81. Sophomore Gabby Shaw took second in the 1,600 in 6:34.15 and freshman Maddie Huber was third in the 100 hurdles (18.65).
For the boys, Menlo senior Sam Parker won the 800 in 2:05.80 and freshman Matt Myers was second in 2:06.72. They were one-two in the 1,600, as well, with Parker finishing in 4:42.46 and Myers in 4:45.21.
Senior Jordan Williams won the 300 hurdles in 47.08 and senior John Shanley was second in 47.84. Menlo swept the top three spots in long jump — Williams was first at 18-10 1/4, junior Alec Drobac second in 18-9 and senior Kevin Ji was third with a 16-4. Shanley won the 110 high hurdles in 18.24 and the triple jump at 39-7; Williams was second with a 37-2 1/2 in addition to taking second in the high jump. Shanley also joined sophomore Max Parker, freshman Travis Chambers and junior Martin Keyt in the 400 relay, which took second.
Senior Matt Lam won shot put with a toss of 38-2 and Mafileo Tupou was second. Lam, senior Christian Fajardo and Tupou took the top three spots in discus.
The Knights compete in the fourth and final regular-season WBAL meet on Wednesday, April 27, at Sacred Heart Prep.