Sports

Palo Alto Oaks set to battle for title in State Playoffs

Palo Alto will take a No. 1 seed into midseason tourney despite going 0-1-1 on the weekend

It was just one of those rare days for the Palo Alto Oaks where nothing seemed to work. Palo Alto suffered its first loss of the season in a 3-0 setback to the visiting Morgan Hill Mudcats on Sunday, and followed that up with a 5-5 deadlock in the second game of the Western Baseball Association doubleheader at Baylands Athletic Center.

Despite the lack of success, the Oaks (12-1-2) will take a No. 1 seed into this weekend's State Playoffs in Santa Rosa. The midseason event gets underway Saturday with Palo Alto taking on the No. 2 seed out of the Sacramento Rural League at 1 p.m.

The tie with Morgan Hill proved to more beneficial than another loss as it enabled the Oaks to tie Fontanetti's. The first tiebreaker is head to head, with Palo Alto holding the edge with a 1-0-1 record against its rival from San Jose. Fontanetti's will be the No. 2 seed out of the WBA.

The other good news is that Palo Alto opens on Saturday. In previous years, the Oaks have played a Friday game. With many of their players holding down regular jobs, the Friday opener often left Palo Alto manager Steve Espinoza with a reduced roster.

Espinoza actually won't have a full roster this weekend. The big loss is starting pitcher Matt Campbell, who planned vacation time for this weekend before the schedule was completed.

Fortunately for the Oaks, pitcher Matt Norlander will be available after missing Sunday's doubleheader with Morgan Hill. Blake McFarland, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound right-handed pitcher from San Jose State who also wasn't available Sunday, will be around for the State Playoffs, as well.

Espinoza also has Jason Kafka, Tyler Duran and Jason Kleinhoffer available. All three pitched in Sunday's second game.

Kafka started for the Oaks and fell behind quickly when he allowed a run in the first. He settled down and gave up no more runs through the third.

In the fourth, the Oaks scored three runs when Nick Schulz singled after an out. Tyler Christian walked and Palo Alto High grad Shane Parsons was hit by a pitch to load the bases. The Oaks tied the game when Mike Reiling's infield ground ball was misplayed. Tyler Finley then knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly. The third run of the inning was scored when Will Klein singled to right field.

The Oaks got busy again in the sixth when Grant Nelson led off the inning with a single. That was followed by a Vince Gutierrez infield single that the second baseman threw away. Nelson headed to third and Gutierrez to second on the play. When the Morgan Hill catcher threw the ball into centerfield trying to get Gutierrez, Nelson scored and Gutierrez to advance to third. Schulz then brought home Gutierrez with a groundout for a 5-1 lead.

Duran pitched the fourth and fifth innings and allowed no hits while striking out three. Kleinhoffer, another Paly grad, was called on to close out the game. Things got off to a rocky start when a routine ground ball was not handled. That was followed by two walks. Two infield outs later, the Mudcats had two runs in. Kleinhoffer then hit the No. 6 hitter to put runners on first and third. An attempted steal looked to end the inning, but the ball was dropped allowing the third run to score.

Leading by only 5-4 entering the seventh and final inning, three outs were all that was needed for the Oaks win. Unfortunately for Palo Alto, the first Morgan Hill batter was hit by a pitch and reached second on a sacrifice bunt. After a groundout, the Oaks were within one out of winning the game. But, it was not to be. Morgan Hill's No. 2 hitter, Danny Ordonez, singled to right field to drive in the tying run. An extra inning was played to try and break the tie, but the game ended on the time limit rule.

In the first game, Palo Alto lost for the first time this season, 3-0. The loss also was the first of the year for starter Matt Campbell (5-1). He allowed only one earned run in the ninth inning, although two other unearned runs crossed the plate. But, it didn't matter because the Oaks were shut out by Matt Medeiros.

Campbell was superb, but just didn't get the run support he needed. Campbell struck out seven and gave up seven hits. Medeiros struck out six and gave up five hits. Palo Alto had two runners thrown out trying to steal second and stranded Evan Warner at second and third after he got on with an infield single and again after a double.

-- Palo Alto Online Sports/Steve Espinoza contributing

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