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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - May 13, 2011

Nearly a perfect day for the Knights

Menlo School boys' tennis reaches CCS finals, lacrosse advances to finals, baseball ties for league lead

by Keith Peters

It was a big day for Menlo School, but not quite a perfect one, as three of four squads earned significant victories on Wednesday and a fourth was prevented by a single stroke of the golf club.

The Menlo boys' tennis team advanced to the Central Coast Section finals, the baseball squad pulled into a tie for first place in the West Bay Athletic League and the boys' lacrosse team moved on to the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League finals.

The only team to miss out was the boys' golf squad, which tied for fourth place at the CCS Regional II tournament in Carmel Valley but failed to advance after losing a tiebreaker to Menlo-Atherton.

"Yeah, pretty good day for Menlo," said Craig Schoof, the Knights' athletic director. He would have spent his day shuttling between events, but was busy coaching the Knights to their baseball victory.

"That's why I have an assistant," Schoof said. "Buffie (Ward) to tennis, lacrosse and baseball. We did miss out on swimming (WBAL trials)."

Ward started her day in Los Gatos, where she watched the top-seeded tennis team advance to the CCS Team Tournament final with a 7-0 win over Monta Vista at the Courtside Club.

In Friday's final (2 p.m.), the Knights (24-1) will face third-seeded Bellarmine (19-3), which upended No. 2-seeded Saratoga, 5-2, in the other semifinal.

"They know what's at stake on Friday," Menlo coach Bill Shine said of his players, who are riding a 14-match winning streak after registering their third straight shutout in section play. Also on the line is a chance to win a record-breaking 10th CCS title. Menlo and Gunn currently are tied with nine.

"I've been selling that," Shine said of the possible record.

The Knights have faced the Bells twice this season — once in the National Invitation Tournament semifinals and the other in a nonleague match — and won both times. The Knights will try to win their third straight section crown on Friday.

Shine was surprised that his team wouldn't be facing Saratoga in a rematch of last year's finale. The Falcons dropped the first set in six matches Tuesday before getting into the battle. Bellarmine had to win a pair of tiebreakers to help pull it out.

"They must be getting better," Shine said of the Bells. "So, we have to bring our best. It doesn't matter what we've done in the past. It only matters Friday."

When tennis was over, Ward headed back to campus for the baseball and lacrosse matches, held side-by-side for those wanting to watch both.

On the baseball diamond, a nine-run, fourth-inning explosion blew open the game as Menlo earned a share of first place in the WBAL race with a convincing 12-5 win over Sacred Heart Prep.

The Knights are 8-1 in league (21-5 overall) with one game remaining — against visiting King's Academy on Friday at 4 p.m. A win would assure Menlo of at least a share of the WBAL title before the defending CCS Division III champion heads to the section playoffs for the 23rd time in the past 24 seasons.

The Gators (15-11), also 8-1, play Pinewood on Friday to close out the regular season. SHP and Menlo split their season series.

Behind some clutch hitting by Ian Lynch and some Menlo defensive mistakes, Sacred Heart Prep jumped out to a 4-2 advantage, heading into the bottom of the fourth inning with starter Jack Larson seemingly in control. Menlo, however, scored nine runs on just eight hits while sending 14 batters to the plate. Freshman Mikey Diekroeger who had two of his four hits and junior Freddy Avis who had a two-run double in the frame.

"We certainly are a better hitting team than we showed the first time around," Schoof said of his team's earlier loss to SHP. "It was nice to see some balls drop. It had seemed like everything they (the Gators) had hit the first time and this time fell in, didn't matter if it was hit hard or soft. We got some of those in the fourth and then we pounded it a bit."

Avis added to the pounding as he belted a titanic solo home run in the fifth and finished with three RBI. Dylan Mayer, Robert Wickers and Diekroeger all had two RBI. Junior Jake Batchelder came on in relief in the fifth and threw three outstanding innings to shut down the potent Gators attack to preserve the win for Avis (8-1).

On hand to watch the important victory were Menlo alums Kenny and Danny Diekroeger, teammates on the Stanford baseball team. They were joined in the lineup by fellow grad Jack Mosbacher during Tuesday night's win over UC Davis, giving Schoof a proud moment.

Before baseball wrapped up, the Menlo boys' lacrosse team got a goal from sophomore Wiley Osborne in overtime to carry the Knights to a 10-9 victory over Menlo-Atherton in the SCVAL semifinals.

"That's the third time we played them this season," Osborne said of the Bears. "That's always the hardest thing to do, beat a team three times."

The teams were tied at halftime, 4-4, and traded goals in the third period until Menlo's Ryan Grzejka scored for an 8-6 lead. The Bears forged an 8-8 deadlock to finish the period and took a 9-8 lead on Ryan Johnston's goal before Menlo sophomore Nick Schultz scored the tying goal to force overtime.

The Knights (15-7), who were upset in the SCVAL semifinals last year, now advance to the playoff championship on Saturday at Woodside High at 1 p.m. Menlo will face Mountain View, which eliminated defending champ Palo Alto, 11-8, in the other semifinal.

"Last year we had a lot of experience," said Osbornem who scored four goals with two assists. "This year we didn't start off very well (2-4), but we pulled together."

"We knew each other very well," said Menlo coach Todd Blumbergs. "M-A is a good team and they had every right to win this game as we did . . . These (Menlo) kids have seen rough patches, but during those games the important thing is you learn and you get better, and you make adjustments going forward."

The only imperfection on the day for Menlo came in Carmel Valley, where the Knights surprisingly lost out to Menlo-Atherton, which advanced out of the CCS Regional II on a tiebreaker while earning a berth in Tuesday's CCS finals, also at Rancho Canada (West) Golf Course.

Menlo and M-A both shot teams scores of 394, tying for the fourth and final CCS berth. The tiebreaker came down to the lowest total team score over the final nine holes. Both teams had the same number so a second tiebreaker was used for the final six holes. The Bears had fewer strokes and thus moved on.

"A tough loss and a tough way to lose for the team that had sailed through league play undefeated and won the WBAL league championship last week," said Menlo coach Dave Buchanan.

Travis Anderson and David McNamara each shot a 5-over 76 to pace the Bears while Menlo senior Patrick Grimes, the defending CCS champ, and sophomore teammate Andrew Buchanan had even-par 71s to advance to the CCS finals as individuals.

Gunn finished eighth in the team scoring with senior Matt Redfield leading the way with a 78. The last individual qualifying berth went to Portola Valley resident Maverick McNealy of Harker. He shot 75.

In other prep sports with playoff significance this week:

Sophomore Charlotte Biffar scored five goals as Palo Alto moved on to the championship match of the SCVAL girls' lacrosse playoffs with a 15-9 semifinal victory over visiting Los Gatos on Wednesday. The Vikings (14-7) will defend their title on Saturday against St. Francis at Woodside High at 11 a.m.

The Lancers edged Leland, 11-10, in the other semifinal.

Kimmie Flather scored three goals with Layla Memar, Leigh Dairaghi and Nina Kelty all adding two for Paly, which grabbed an 8-3 halftime lead. The Wildcats (9-7), however, rallied in the second half as the Vikings suffered two back-to-back yellow-card penalties with 13 and 11 minutes left to play. Paly played for more than a minute while down two players and Los Gatos took advantage to get to within 10-8.

Once the yellow cards were released, Paly coach Jamie Nesbitt called a timeout to regroup. The Vikings did just that and scored five unanswered goals to earn a rematch with St. Francis. Paly won last season's inaugural league playoffs over the Lancers, 9-8.

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