Paly's long-await baseball title is a blast
Vikings hit four home runs and rally from five runs down
to beat Los Gatos for first De Anza Division title since 1994
Palo Alto baseball coach Erick Raich knows he is safe. There will be no water dumped on him after Friday's regular-season home finale against Los Gatos.
That's because celebratory dunking took place Wednesday, moments after the Vikings clinched their first SCVAL De Anza Division title since 1994 with a thrilling come-from-behind 13-8 triumph over the host Wildcats.
"Yes, I got the bucket of water dumped on me," Raich said. "The players got me good, and I didn't even see it coming."
Actually, Raich should have expected the water bath, especially after the Vikings had rallied from an 8-3 deficit with seven runs in the top of the sixth. And, Raich should have figured something was coming after watching his team blast four home runs.
"Yeah, wow, what an amazing game to clinch a league championship with," said Raich, 27, in his first season at the helm. "We had so many contributing players and it was fitting that we came back through some adversity to pull out the win."
The victory extends Paly's win streak to 16 consecutive games and gives the Vikings a 13-0 division mark (21-3 overall) heading into Friday's game.
"As for finishing the season unbeaten, it would be great," Raich said. "However, now that we have clinched first place, I want to allow our seniors to play on Friday and give them their due respect for all of their hard work through this season. We have had great leadership from all of them and they deserve to be sent off the right way."
The senior class includes Geoff Dodson, Jared Beeson, Wyatt Shaw, Conner Raftery plus starters Scott Witte, Joc Pederson and Wade Hauser. They have help compile one of the most memorable seasons in program history, which stretches to 1899 when Paly won its first league title.
Palo Alto won 10 league titles between 1899 and 1927 before experiencing a drought until 1987. The Vikings won the De Anza crown in 1994, took the El Camino Division title in 2002 and now have their 14th championship following Wednesday's long-awaited title.
"All of the players reacted like true champions," Raich explained. "They didn't rush the field; they just came out like they expected to win and represented themselves like champions.
"This was more than satisfying. I am speechless. These players are models of what it takes to be a champion and how hard work and dedication pays off."
The Paly seniors went 16-17 as juniors, 14-13-1 as sophomores and 7-17 for those who played as freshmen. This is only the program's fifth winning season since 2001.
"I can't thank all of the players enough for how hard they have worked this season, and have come in every day with a goal to get better. I have never had as much fun as I have this season coaching. I am excited for what is in our future."
That's probably because Raich will return 14 of his current players next season, many of whom contributed in a big way Wednesday against Los Gatos. Juniors Drake Swezey and Christoph Bono, for example, pounded home runs and accounted for six RBI and four hits. But, once again, the offense was spread around with everyone, it seems, contributing.
"The offense once again was a huge contributor," Raich said. "We had eight different players with important RBI and everyone played a key role in this quest for a championship."
Palo Alto jumped out to a quick lead when Pederson ripped a leadoff homer over the right-centerfield fence. Witte followed with another solo blast in the top of the second for a 2-0 lead.
The Vikings gave one back when Jason Shepardson, the half-brother of Raich, got into a pitch and sent it over the fence in center.
Palo Alto went up 3-1 before the Wildcats broke it open in the fifth inning and took an 8-3 lead. The Vikings responded right away, tacking on seven runs of their own — highlighted by a two-run homer by Drake Swezey -- to take a 10-8 lead going into the final inning. Paly sent 13 batters to the plate in the sixth, taking advantage of five walks, an error and a hit batsman.
The Vikings padded their lead in the seventh when Cory Tenanes led off with a walk and Pederson followed with a single. Bono then put the decision out of the Wildcats' reach with a monster three-run homer that cleared the scoreboard in right field.
Witte, the team's senior ace, pitched the final two innings and didn't allow a hit or run as the Vikings walked away with the outright championship.
Bono finished with four RBI and two hits while Swezey and junior T.J. Braff added two RBI each. Pederson and Hauser also had two hits each.
In Atherton, it was Menlo's youth movement once again that made a difference in the Knights' West Bay Athletic League baseball victory over visiting Crystal Springs on Wednesday, as the Knights remained within a game of first place with a 17-3 romp. Menlo improved to 4-1 in league (15-6 overall).
On the mound, it was sophomore lefthander Jake Batchelder, who extended his scoreless inning streak to 21 innings as he moved to 6-0 on the year by throwing five shutout innings. At the plate, it was sophomore Dylan Mayer, who went three for three with four RBI, including his fifth home run of the season. Fellow sophomore Freddy Avis added two hits and two RBI while senior Jackson Badger added three hits and two RBI. Junior Phil Anderson contributed two hits.
Menlo blasted the game open with 11 runs in the second inning, highlighted by Mayer's three-run homer. The Knights return to WBAL action on Friday by hosting Pinewood, which will be a tuneup for next Wednesday's game against first-place Sacred Heart Prep on the Knights' field at 4 p.m.
Speaking of Sacred Heart, the Gators rebounded from their first loss after seven straight victories and remained atop the WBAL standings with a 13-2 blasting of visiting Harker on Wednesday. The Gators improved to 5-0 in league (11-9-1 overall) heading into their big showdown next Wednesday at second-place Menlo.
Sacred Heart put up seven runs in the second inning and wound up with 16 hits in the lopsided affair. Thomas O'Donnell drove in three runs while Charlie Bradford, Ryan Lockareff and Ty Cobb all had two RBI. O'Donnell had a triple and Bryan Kohrs added a double among his three hits while John Geary picked up the pitching win with six strong innings. The Gators will host King's Academy on Friday at 4 p.m.
In the SCVAL El Camino Division, Gunn pounded out 12 hits, including five for extra bases, as the Titans romped past visiting Lynbrook, 11-1, on Tuesday. Graham Fisher picked up his four win on the season while allowing just two hits in four innings on the mound. Danny Luskin earned the save.
The Titans (6-4, 8-11-2) scored a run every inning for the first time this season. Travis Bowers and Jake Verhulp led the offense. Bowers had two doubles and three RBI while Verhulp added two RBI on a triple and single. Tyler Harney and Jack Hannan also had two hits for Gunn, which took advantage of runners in scoring position as by hitting five sacrifice flies.
In the PAL Bay Division, Menlo-Atherton's scheduled game at Terra Nova on Wednesday was rained out. The teams were scheduled to make that up Thursday before the series shifts to M-A on Friday at 3:15 p.m.