Menlo makes pitch for three-peat
Palo Alto's season ends in 4-2 semifinal loss
Menlo School baseball coach Craig Schoof can only hope that the sore right arm of senior ace Freddy Avis won't prevent him from taking the mound in Saturday's Central Coast Section Division III championship game.
Schoof most likely knows what happened the past two times Avis started section title games .
In 2010, Avis was the winning pitcher in an 8-2 victory over Hillsdale. Last season, Avis pitched the first 5 2/3 innings before reaching his limit of innings per week but still earned the win in a 4-0 triumph over Santa Cruz.
Avis started Tuesday's 8-2 victory over No. 3 seed Monte Vista Christian, but left after two innings due to soreness in his right arm. That gives him eight innings on Saturday, if he's ready to go or Schoof needs him that long.
Second-seeded Menlo (22-7) will be seeking its third straight CCS Division III title against No. 9 seed Pacific Grove (19-10) when the teams meet at San Jose Municipal Stadium at 4 p.m.
"We're the returning champs," said Avis. "People are going to be out to get us — we have to be ready to play Saturday."
Senior lefthander Jake Batchhelder was ready to play on Tuesday as he threw five relief innings, struck out three, and allowed just two hits to lead Menlo to its semifinal victory. He retired 14 of 16 batters.
"That says a lot about our team," said Avis. "We have a lot of guys that can step up in the situation and Batch got it done today -- he was absolutely stellar."
Menlo's offense struggled in the first two innings, then came alive in the third when sophomore Mikey Diekroeger led off the inning with a double to the right-field corner. Senior infielder Carson Badger roped a base hit to center field driving in Diekroeger and tying the game at 2.
Graham Stratford singled with one out in the fifth inning and Avis lined a triple over the center fielder's head for an RBI that sparked a four-run inning. Batchelder added a two-run, bases-loaded single to put Menlo up 6-2.
The Mustangs couldn't stop the Knights' offense, which produced eight runs on 10 hits. Senior outfielder Chris Zeisler went 2-for-3 with a stolen base and made a spectacular diving catch in the fifth inning. He also singled home Stratford and Avis in the sixth to cap the scoring.
Pacific Grove bounced No. 5 Carmel, 3-2, in the other semifinal to reach the section finals for the first time since 2002, when Pacific Grove lost to Carmel.
While Menlo will be playing for its sixth CCS title, there will be no history-making back-to-back titles for top-seeded Palo Alto (27-7), which saw its season end in a 4-2 loss to Valley Christian in eight innings in the Division I semifinals on Wednesday night.
Sophomore righthander Theron Kay made sure of that as he threw a complete game, struck out eight batters, and allowed only three hits to lead Valley Christian at San Jose Municipal Stadium.
Palo Alto needed a victory to have an attempt at winning consecutive CCS titles for the first time in program history.
"It stings and it will always sting," said Paly senior pitcher Ben Sneider. "To lose to an opponent that flat out beat us -- that's the way you want to go out."
The Vikings' offense looked promising in the first inning when senior center fielder B.J. Boyd ripped a triple off the top of the right field fence on the second pitch of the game. Boyd came in to score on a ground ball to shortstop from senior Jack Witte putting the Vikings up 1-0 after the first inning.
Palo Alto's bats were quiet following the Boyd triple, connecting for just three hits total. Boyd scored the first two runs of the game, the second one coming on a steal of home in the third inning. The Warriors, however, tied the game at 2 in the fifth and won it in the eighth on a two-run double by Kay.
The Vikings' outfield defense was stellar, saving runs on diving catches and assists from seniors Boyd, John Dickerson, and Justin Grey. The infield wasn't as solid as the outfielders, committing two errors - one accounting for the tying run.
"It's tough to lose," said Raich. "It's one of those games that could go either way, whomever gets the big knock is going to get the win and they got that one."
Preventing Palo Alto from reaching a third straight CCS championship game. During the past three seasons, the Vikings have compiled an 84-20 record under Raich.
"They're a great group of kids," Raich said of his seniors. "I'm sad to see them go."