In a finish that seemed improbable while watching the team's first All-Star game back on July 1, the Palo Alto National 10-11 All-Stars wrapped up the championship in Little League District 52 post-season play at Marina Field in Belmont. The team now moves on to Fremont for the Section 3 tournament, beginning July 22.
On July 1, PA National kicked off the tournament against Redwood City National. PA was ahead on Nick Wells' pitching, 2-1, going in to the 4th inning, but gave up two runs to Redwood City after Wells took a line drive to the forehead and had to sit out the rest of the game. PA managed to squeeze out 3 runs in the top of the 6th, mostly thanks to timely hits by Clay Carey and Matthias Schmutz, to go up 5-3. PA held off RWC in the bottom of the 6th to get out of that game with a win.
Next up, on July 3, was PA American, a well-coached squad with good pitching. Between PA American's terrific starting pitcher and an umpire with a teacup-sized strike zone, PA National was down 5-1 by the 3rd inning. A new pitcher came in for PAA who let PAN bring in a couple of runs. In the bottom of the 6th, the score still 5-3 in favor of PAA, Clay Carey came up to bat with the bases loaded and two away, and drove a single into right field, which brought in the tying run. Matthias Schmutz once again hit the game-winning RBI, and PA National escaped with a 6-5 win.
On Saturday, June 8, PA National faced off against San Mateo National, and quickly dug themselves a deep hole. Down 10-0 after two innings, many in the crowd resigned themselves to dropping to the loser's bracket. But in the third, PAN got SMN's pitcher's number, and scored two runs. PAN put four more on the board in the 4th while tightening up their defense, making the score 10-6 after four behing Matt Ersted's off-speed pitches. Three more crossed the plate in the 5th, two of them thanks to hits by Owen Lewis and Matthias Schmutz, so once again Clay Carey came to the plate with his team down by a run in the bottom of the 6th.
Carey launched the second pitch of the inning just over the left-field fence, tying the score. Next up was Peter Verheecke, who got hold of a pitch and drove it at least 30 feet over the fence, into the creek behind Marina Field. PAN walked off with an 11-10 victory.
On Monday, July 10, PAN met the only other undefeated team in the double-elimination tournament so far, host Belmont/Redwood Shores. Pitcher Nick Wells got three strike-outs in the top of the first. In the bottom of the first, Clay Carey put another fastball over the fence following a single and stolen base by Schmutz, which put Palo Alto up 2-0. PA scored two more in the bottom of the second.
Belmont-Redwood Shores put 4 runs on the board in the top of the third in a surge set off by catcher Tanner Westmoreland's perfect bunt down the first-base line. Peter Verheecke gave up a double to Westmoreland in the top of the fourth, but put the next three batters down in order to get out of the inning.
Palo Alto then put on a show in the bottom of the fourth starting with a single to left by Jimmy Smale. Matt Ersted then laid down a sacrifice bunt that pushed Smale over to second base. Belmont's throw to second went into center field, and Smale ended up scoring. Matt Schwab lined a single to center, then scored on Owen Lewis' single to right. Lewis went to third on the throw, then scored when Matthias Schmutz singled. After Schmutz stole second, Carey belted his second homer of the game, and his third of his last four at-bats, to put Palo Alto up 9-4.
Belmont managed to score another run in the bottom of the fifth, with Carey pitching, but that was the end of the scoring. Alec Wong pitched the 6th, inducing two ground-outs and a strike-out to finish up the game with a final score of 9-5.
Two teams that had suffered a lost to PAN, Belmont and PA American, then had to battle it out on Tuesday night for the opportunity to face them again in the championship game. Belmont prevailed in that contest, and faced PAN on Wednesday, July 12.
Clay Carey pitched all 6 innings for PA National, and thanks to a defense that has jelled nicely during the tournament, allowed only 2 runs. Kirby Gee proved his mettle behind the plate while Austin Poore and Grant Shorin made some great catches in the outfield. Matthias Schmutz again got hits with runners in scoring position, earning 6 RBIs on the night. PA National soundly defeated Belmont, 10-2, to finish the tournament without a loss.
Congratulations to the team, the coaching squad, and the parents who shivered through several night games. On to Fremont!