Palo Alto improved to 12-0 and clinched the No. 1 seed for the upcoming state playoffs following a sweep of the El Cerrito A's on Sunday at Baylands Athletic Center. The Oaks produced 12-0 and 6-1 victories while remaining unbeaten with one week of the regular season remaining.
The Oaks will wrap things up on Sunday before hosing the state championship tournament at Baylands beginning Friday, July 22. Palo Alto will have to win that in order to advance to the West Region tourney the following weekend in Southern California.
The reward for winning the West Region title will be a return trip to the World Series in Houston, Texas. The Oaks came within a game of reaching the finals last season, going 2-2 and finishing the season 23-3-1.
Veteran pitchers Matt Campbell and Brant Norlander were superb, as usual, on Sunday.
Norlander started Game 1 of the Western Baseball Association (Stan Musial Division) doubleheader and gave up just one hit while striking out 10. Graham Rodriguez pitched the last inning and struck out all three hitters he faced.
The Oaks got busy in the first inning when they rapped out five hits and two walks to put up a 5-0 lead. Nick Borg had the big hit, knocking in two with a single.
In the second inning, Palo Alto grad Evan Warner led off by being hit by a pitch. A ground out put him on second. Warner then stole third. Stanford's Tyler Gaffney also was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners with one out. Warner stole home on a delay steal, which stunned the visiting team. Bryan Beres singled and Borg walked to load the bases. Anthony Bona launched a bases-clearing double to deep right center. Gunn grad Greg Matson then walked and, after a groundout, Will Klein was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Two walks plated two more runs and the route was on.
In the second game, Campbell took the mound and was in complete control until the fifth. That's when the A's led off with a double and, after a groundout to first, plated the runner with a single. That was the only run the visiting A's would score against the Oaks.
Palo Alto scored all it would need in the top of the first. Warner led things off with a single. Alex Sortwell walked to put runners on first and second. Gaffney then hit into a double play and the inning looked like it might end without any damage. But, Bona stepped in and delivered a triple over the centerfielders' head to plate Warner. Vince Gutierrez then singled in Bona for a 2-0 lead.
The Oaks struck again in the third when Sortwell led off with a walk, stole second and advanced to third on a groundout. Bona then delivered again with a single to plate Sortwell.
The Oaks concluded their scoring in the sixth when Tyler Finley, who is just back from injury, singled to lead things off. Jeff Ramirez then hit a fly into shallow right-center that dropped for a hit. Klein, running for Finley, was forced out at second. Sam Wilkens singled and Brian Maihack walked to load the bases. Josh Brown was then hit by a pitch to score one run. A couple of wild pitches allowed two more runners to score and put the game out of reach. Matson pitched the final two innings gave up no runs and struck out three.