It was only a year ago that Paly was on its way to a possible title in the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League, only to discover it had to forfeit six league matches due to an ineligible player.
The Vikings scrambled to make the postseason playoffs, only to be eliminated in the semifinals by St. Francis.
With its goal clear for this season, Palo Alto roared through the SCVAL season unbeaten in 14 matches — twice handling the Lancers.
The top-seeded Vikings now can complete a season that escaped them last season after defeating visiting Saratoga, 15-8, in a SCVAL semifinal Wednesday night.
Palo Alto (18-2) will face (surprise) St. Francis (15-4), a 17-3 winner over Los Gatos in the other semifinal, in Saturday's championship match at Burlingame High at 10 a.m.
The Vikings grabbed an early lead against the Falcons and never gave it up as eight different players scored. Seniors Nina Kelty and Charlotte Biffar led the way once again with Kelty contributing four goals and two assists while Biffar tallied three times.
Allie Peery and Gigi Lucas-Conwell added two goals apiece for Paly with Annemarie Drez, Anna Dairaghi, Maya Benetar and Paige Bara all scoring once.
In the West Bay Athletic League playoffs, Menlo School hosted Menlo-Atherton and Sacred Heart Prep hosted Castilleja on Thursday in semifinals. The winners will meet for the title on Saturday at Harker (Saratoga campus) at 11 a.m.
Menlo-Atherton advanced to the semifinals with a 13-11 victory over host Burlingame on Tuesday night. The Bears (6-12-1) got the game-winning goal from freshman Beven Martin as M-A took a 12-11 lead with three minutes to play.
The Panthers appeared to have scored the equalizer with a minute left, but the goal was waived off due to an off-sides call. Emily Carlson cemented the triumph with a final goal with seven seconds left. She finished with three goals, as did Meredith Geaghan-Breiner.
Burlingame grabbed an early 3-2 lead but M-A defenders Megan Wiseman, Hanah Wilson and Maya Israni made key defensive stops. Morgan Corona, Geaghan-Breiner and Sally Carlson scored three unanswered goals as the Bears took a 5-3 lead.
Castilleja advanced by eliminating host Notre Dame-San Jose, 13-7, on Tuesday. Katherine Hobbs led the Gators with four goals with Biffar and Kaley Nelson each adding three. Charlotte Jones, Ellie Zales, and Laurel Nelson all scored once.
Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo School are headed for a co-championship in the WBAL, barring an upset loss by either team on Friday.
The Gators (8-1, 17-9) will visit King's Academy in their final regular-season game while the Knights (8-1, 18-7) will host Harker, both at 4 p.m.
On Wednesday, SHP's offense came alive as Mike Covell and Chris Lee combined for six hits, five of them for extra bases, as the Gators pounded out 17 hits in a 15-2 victory over host Harker.
Lee had four hits, including two doubles and one triple, while Covell slammed a homer and double and drove in five runs. Nick Sinchek and Fabian Chavez also had doubles as the Gators produced seven extra-base hits. That made it easy for starter Will Nahmens and relievers Robert Larson and Will Johnston, who combined on a four-hitter.
On Tuesday, Menlo also pounded out 17 hits while rolling to an 11-2 victory over host Pinewood. Senior catcher Austin Marcus slammed two home runs among his four hits and drove in five runs. Christian Pluchar added two doubles and three RBI while fellow junior Graham Stratford contributed three hits and two RBI.
Jack Redman went four innings to pick up his sixth win of the season while Chris Atkeson came on in relief and tossed three scoreless innings.
Menlo will head into the CCS playoffs next week for the 25th time in 26 years.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton kept its CCS hopes alive with a 4-1 victory over visiting Aragon. Junior Erik Amundson fanned 10 batters while allowing just four hits over six innings as to pace the Bears (7-6, 17-9). Aragon fell to 4-9 (11-13).
With the victory, M-A held onto a share of fourth place in the Bay Division with Half Moon Bay.
Aragon mounted its biggest threat against Amundson in the sixth inning, when it loaded the bases with two outs following three walks by the M-A right-hander. On his 118th pitch of the game, however, Amundson induced the Dons' No. 9 hitter to bounce into an inning-ending groundout. The victory improved Amundson's record to 6-2, and lowered his ERA to 2.32. He leads the team with 72 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings pitched.
Sophomore AJ Lemons closed the game out for the Bears, surrendering one run on three hits while striking out two Aragon batters.
Third baseman James Kollar-Gasiewski led M-A's offense with a two-run single and two walks, while Amundson and DH Brett Moriarty also drove in runs for the Bears. Senior catcher Charles Grose had an infield hit and two walks, while center fielder Charlie Cain reached on a bunt single, scored two runs, and stole three bases. Shortstop Alex Aguiar had the Bears' only extra-base hit — a third-inning double, his ninth of the season.
Menlo School, Palo Alto and Sacred Heart Prep all qualified teams to next week's CCS Championships after finishing among the top four squads at the CCS Regional I and II this week at the par-71 Rancho Canada (West) in Carmel Valley.
With senior Andrew Buchanan firing a 1-under 70, Menlo qualified for the section finals by finishing fourth at the CCS Regional II. The Knights shot a team score of 397 to make the cut.
Buchanan, who tweaked his back at the WBAL Tournament last week and had to withdraw before finishing, battled through continued tightness in his lower back to record seven birdies while tying for second overall.
On a windy day that played havoc with distance control and led to higher scores, Buchanan said he was disappointed with his overall round — it included four bogeys and one double-bogey — but was happy to finish birdie-birdie. On the 18th hole, he ripped a 310-yard drive before dropping a 65-yard wedge shot to within eight feet of the pin and making the putt.
Menlo's Ethan Wong shot 76, William Hsieh shot 80, Riley Burgess had an 85 in his first CCS trip while hitting only three fairways and Max Garnick carded an 86 to round out the scoring. Wong had a key birdie on the eighth hole after hitting a big drive and putting his 9-iron to within three fee for a tap-in birdie.
"The team really came through," said Wong, "and we will be ready for next week."
Pinewood shot 406 and tied for seventh, but the Panthers' Trevor Hernstadt shot 75 and qualified for the CCS finals as an individual.
On Tuesday, SHP shot 377 and Palo Alto 384 while trailing R.L. Stevenson (358) and San Benito (373). Among the four teams failing to advance was Gunn (399).
SHP was led by junior Bradley Knox, who fired a 1-under 70 while Derek Ackerman shot 75, Taylor Oliver 76 with Bradley Keller and Ryan Galvin adding 78s.
Palo Alto was led by Patrick Fuery's 73 and a 76 by John Knowles. Alex Hwang and Grant Raffel each shot 78 with Michelle Xie wrapping up the scoring with a 79.
While Gunn missed qualifying as a team, the Titans had senior Avinash Sharma (74) and junior Anson Cheng (76) advanced among the nine individual qualifiers. Jack Jaffe shot 81 for Gunn while teammates Zack Tevanian and Herbert Sadler-Wong each carded an 84.
Sacred Heart Prep will have an opportunity to play for its first-ever title in the SCVAL following an 18-6 semifinal romp over visiting Palo Alto on Wednesday.
The No. 2-seeded Gators (13-8) will take on top-seeded and defending champion Menlo-Atherton (15-6) on Saturday at Burlingame High at 6 p.m. The Bears (15-6) advanced with a 9-6 win over visiting Menlo School (8-11) in the other semifinal.
SHP goalie Austin Appleton came up with 16 saves, 11 in the first half, to effectively shut down Paly's offense. While the Vikings were being held in check, SHP's Brian White and Andrew Daschbach each scored four times with Frankie Hattler and Noah Kawasaki each tallying a hat trick.
Sacred Heart Prep, which defeated Paly by only 13-12 earlier in the season, held a comfortable 8-1 lead in the first half. Walker Mees led Paly (14-6) with three goals.
Menlo advanced to the championship match of the CCS Team Tournament for the 15th time following a surprisingly easy 17-1 romp over 2012 runner-up Bellarmine on Wednesday.
While reaching the finals on Friday at Courtside Club in Los Gatos (12:30 p.m. start) is no surprise, it definitely will have a different feel to it. For the first time, the top-seeded Knights will be facing Serra.
The third-seeded Padres (19-1) will be playing in the finals for the first time in school history. Serra, with its deepest team ever, rolled into the title match with a 12-6 victory over No. 7 seed Saratoga at Los Gatos Swim & Racquet Club.
Menlo (23-1), meanwhile, heads into the finals following one of its most dominating victories over No. 4 Bellarmine (21-4), which had played in the title match three of the past four years.
"The sets were not very close, except for a couple of 6-4s," said Menlo coach Bill Shine, who improved to 402-42 in his 17th year with the Knights.
The Menlo senior class, meanwhile, improved to 106-2 and will be favored to add to the positive side of that total Friday as the Knights will be seeking their fifth straight section title and 12th since winning their first in 1998.
"This is the deepest team I have ever had," confirmed Shine, who has six seniors among his top 10 players.
That was evident as senior Andrew Ball played only once in the round-robin format while No. 1 Richard Pham and No. 2 Daniel Morkovine earned a rest after playing just twice.
Shine had his doubles teams of Victor Pham-Lane Leschly, David Ball-Vikram Chari and William Boyd-Michael Hoffman all play three times. The closest match was a 6-4 win by Ball and Chari in the final rotation and with the match's outcome already decided.
Track and field
The Menlo School boys and girls battled their counterparts at Sacred Heart Prep as last year's WBAL Championships. It was a battle the Knights won as they swept the team titles.
While Menlo has a shot at another sweep at Saturday's league finals at Gunn High, the girls may be on target but not the boys.
Following last weekend's preliminaries, the Menlo girls appear in good shape to defend even though it could be close again. The Knights held off Notre Dame-San Jose by just 1.5 points last season while coming from behind.
Menlo junior Maddy Price was a double-winner last year, in the 400 and 800, but she'll be doubly busy Saturday when field events get under way at 9:30 a.m., with running events starting at 10 a.m.
Price has qualified in four events — 100, 200, 400 and shot put. She is the Central Coast Section leader in both the 200 (24.50) and 400 (55.67), but trails Harker's Isabelle Connell in the 100 (12.22 to 12.26) and was fourth in the shot put qualifying — in her first-ever attempt in the event.
The 100 and 400 also are close together, which makes winning both all the more difficult. Price, however, is a huge favorite in the one-lapper.
The WBAL title in the boys' meet looks to be between Sacred Heart Prep and Menlo. The Gators appear to have the inside track heading into the finals and should dethrone the Knights barring some major upsets.
The Gators are led by senior Nico Robinson, who could win as many as four events — 110 high hurdles, 300 intermediate hurdles, long jump and high jump. The last event may be the toughest to win as Robinson will be competing against teammate Cameron Van. Robinson, however, can dominate in the other three.
He ranks No. 3 in the CCS in the high hurdles (14.73), No. 3 in the long jump (22-8 1/2) and No. 4 in the 300 IH (39.43).
At the PAL Championships on Saturday at Terra Nova in Pacifica, the Menlo-Atherton boys and girls will attempt to move up from last year's third-place finishes.
After three finals that were held last week during the prelims, however, the M-A girls are in eighth with five points while the boys are seventh with seven. Hector Santana was third in the boys' triple jump at 41-0 3/4 and Naomi Tovar finished fourth in the girls' long jump at 15-6 1/4 to lead M-A scorers.
Senior George Baier leads the Bears in the 800 and 1,600 while Kadri Green was the No. 1 qualifier in the 300 IH at last weekend's trials.
For the M-A girls, Annalisa Crowe, Taylor Fortnam and Madeleine Baier lead the distance crew. Crowe was the No. 2 qualifier in both the 800 and 1,600. Miranda Simes, Cassie Stansberry and Annie Harrier give M-A six qualifiers in the 100, 200 and 400.
On Friday night, the top athletes at Gunn and Palo Alto will compete at the SCVAL Championships at Los Gatos High, featuring the top qualifiers from the De Anza and El Camino Division finals. Field events begin at 4:30 p.m., with running at 5 p.m.
The Palo Alto boys and Gunn girls are both coming off team titles at the SCVAL De Anza Division Championships.