Palo Alto makes
pitch for title
at NorCal tourney
Palo Alto manager Bob Budelli hasn't really seen all the pitchers on his Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-star team, due in part to the fact it took only two games to wrap up the District 6 Tournament title last week.
Budelli can only hope that remains true once again heading into Saturday's opening game of the NorCal State Tournament in Vallejo. Palo Alto opens at Wilson Field at 4 p.m.
If Palo Alto is as successful as it was in the district event, Budelli won't have to rely on his entire staff. Should his team lose early in the double-elimination event, well, Budelli likely will get to see his entire staff.
Fortunately, Palo Alto has enough pitching. Moreover, Budelli's team has the experience of playing at this level after winning district titles the past two seasons with pretty much the same team.
"This is our third district title," said assistant coach Lou Vanoli. "We won as 13s and 14s and now as 15s."
Palo Alto captured the district title with a 6-1 victory over Bel-Mateo at Baylands Athletic Center last weekend. If the triumph looked business-like, it was. Nearly 75 percent of this team has been together all three years and the players know each other quite well.
"We know what they can bring," Budelli said. "They know what we expect and we know what to expect from them."
There still are a few things that Budelli, Vanoli and Andrew Shenk (last season's manager) don't know about this current team, but that's because the all-stars have only played twice in the postseason. The district opener was a second-round 9-5 win over Bel-Mateo, which put Palo Alto directly into the championship game of the three-team event.
Bel-Mateo earned a rematch by eliminating Mountain View on Friday.
Budelli said he's still working on whom his starting and closing pitchers will be heading into the NorCal State Tournament. The three pitchers who saw action last weekend certainly didn't hurt their upcoming chances.
Andrew Lim started and went three innings, allowing five hits and surviving two bases-loaded situations while allowing a solo run. Nick Wells went the next three innings and allowed one hit and one walk while facing the mininum nine batters. A double play helped matters after he gave up a leadoff walk and a single to open the fifth. Jack Larson finished up in the seventh, getting out of another bases-loaded situation without any damage.
While the three pitchers did give up eight hits, the Palo Alto defense was flawless. Centerfielder Eric Tam made two solid running catches that took away potential hits, Lim caught a liner and turned it into a double play in the fifth after Bel-Mateo got the first two runners aboard, and catcher Kyle Wallu did a good job behind the plate with all three pitchers.
Palo Alto scored all the runs it needed in the second after Justin Grey flew out to left to open the inning. Christian Kadash singled, Luke Thomas walked and Wallu followed with a single to score Kadash. Larson then plated both Thomas and Wallu with a single to right-center for a 3-0 lead.
After Bel-Mateo got a run back in the bottom of the second, Palo Alto added two more in the fourth. After two strikeouts, Thomas walked and Wallu was hit by a pitch. Larson then walked to load the bases for Tam, who ripped a two-run single to center for a 5-1 lead.
In the fifth, three-year all-star veteran Chris Rea doubled to lead off the inning. After two were out and Rea had moved to third on a groundout, Grey brought Rea home with a single.
Bel-Mateo did threaten in the seventh against Larson, who induced a popup and a fly ball to center (a nice running catch by Tam) before striking out the final batter.
There was little celebration afterward. This team, after all, had been here before and there are plenty of tough games ahead. Budelli, in fact, doesn't know what to expect at the next tournament other than it will take a lot of good pitching for Palo Alto to keep its season alive.
"And it helps to score a lot of runs, too," he said.
Vanoli recalled how close Palo Alto came to advancing past the NorCal State Tournament last season as 14-year-olds. Palo Alto lost an early game to Hayward, but battled through the consolation bracket to force a challenge game. Unfortunately for Palo Alto, it fell in extra innings.
"Hopefully," Vanoli said, "this will be our year."