By Rick Chandler
Palo Alto Online Sports
Some fancy relief pitching by Nick O'Donnell has Menlo-Atherton's Little League All-Star team on the precipice of greatness in the District 52 11-12-year-old tournament, but he couldn't have done it without the help of a very tall friend.
Joe Ellefritz, who himself came on as a defensive replacement in the fourth inning, made a leaping catch at the fence in left field to rob the opposition of a home run in the top of the sixth inning on Wednesday, and teammate Harry Toig delivered a run-scoring double in the botton of the sixth to give M-A a 4-3 win over rival Alpine-West Menlo in a winners bracket quarterfinal of the 11-12 year-old tournament.
M-A now meets Hillsborough on Monday in the winners'-bracket semifinals. Hillsborough beat San Carlos, 6-5, in Wednesday's other game. In the other winners'-bracket semi on Monday, Half Moon Bay will play San Mateo American. All games are at Ortega School in Pacifica.
Time seemed to stand still when Elefritz, the tallest player on the M-A team, made his catch in left; falling back into the plastic netting that serves as the outfield fence and landing on the other side, but hanging on to the ball. The silence was broken by someone in the M-A dugout, who yelled: "He caught it!"
For the record, that someone was Toig.
"When Joe got back to the dugout, we were all mobbing him," said Toig, whose double in the bottom of the inning drove in O'Donnell, who had walked. "We were so excited. Alpine is our big rival. We're all friends, and a lot of those guys go to the same schools as we do."
Toig, in fact, attends St. Joseph's with one of Alpine's players, Justin Harmon.
It's usually Alpine which has had the bragging rights in this rivalry, but not so far this year. It was a Menlo-Atherton team, Mike's Cafe, which won Menlo Park's annual City Championship game over a team from the Alpine/West Menlo league last week. And now it was M-A that has sent Alpine to the losers' bracket (Alpine will play again on Friday).
M-A struck for three runs in the first on a run-scoring double by Jack Gray and run-scoring singles by Kyle Bryan and Will Johnson. But Alpine starter John Bird shut the door after that, retiring eight straight and 11 of the next 12 he faced.
Meanwhile, Alpine chipped away. Evan Easton drove home a run with a single in the second, Matt Henefarth did the same with a groundout in the third, and Mitch Martella (2-for-3) singled and scored on a throwing error to tie it in the sixth.
But it wasn't quite enough.
"That was amazing," said O'Donnell of Elefritz's catch. O'Donnell pitched three innings of strong relief, which included getting out of a no-out, two-on jam in the fifth with two strikeouts. "I was scared that the ball was going to drop over for a home run."
When Elefritz got back to the dugout after the catch, he patted O'Donnell on the shoulder as if to say, 'I had it all the way.'
"He saved everything," O'Donnell said. "It feels good. It's really nice to beat your rival."
Palo Alto National and Alpine/West Menlo remained alive in the District 52 consolation bracket in San Mateo.
Palo Alto National eliminated Palo Alto American with a 13-1 victory. Christian Laurence gave American its own run with a solo homer in the first. PA National bounced back quickly with a run in the first to tie, then took the lead in the third with nine runs.
Justin Jull, Griffy Byer and Pete Snodgrass all had two hits for the winners. Tommy Smale got the pitching win for PA National, which next plays on Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Alpine/West Menlo stayed alive by rallying from a 12-6 deficit in the bottom of the sixth. Alpine scored three times for a 12-9 game and had the bases loaded when Jack Molumphy hit a grand slam to win the game. Alpine also will play Friday at 5:30 p.m.