The Palo Alto Oaks needed five victories, extra innings, come-from-behind-heroics, and deep pitching to capture the 2010 AABC NorCal State Championship over the weekend at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Despite coming in with a No. 1 seed, the Oaks were extremely unlucky with the draw and ended up having to play five games. Despite that obstacle, Palo Alto won all five while beating everyone in the field.
The Oaks' Allen Stiles was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Stiles had 11 hits, scored 10 runs, drove in five and had three doubles while hitting better than .500. Stiles also stole a bunch of bases and drove in a game-tying run and a game-winning run.
The Norcal Championship is the second for the Oaks, who also won it in 2005. Palo Alto now advances to the four-team AABC Western States Regional Tournament this week in San Mateo County. Palo Alto will open Friday against a team from Southern California at Menlo College at 10 a.m.
The Oaks opened last weekend's tourney with an 8-4 win over the Novato Knicks and followed that with a 3-1 victory over the Sacramento Scorch. Game 3 saw the Oaks post a 7-4 triumph over Fontanetti's while the semifinals turned out to be a marathon 7-6 win over Santa Rosa in 13 innings.
That earned the Oaks a berth in the championship game Sunday, with Palo Alto holding on for a 9-8 triumph over the Oakland Expos.
The Oaks sent Tyler Christian to the mound to face the Expos and he gave up a couple runs in the first. As was the case throughout the tournament, the Oaks came right back and scored two of their own in the second inning. Tyler Finley, the starting catcher, delivered the big hit, a double that scored both Nick Schulz and Mike Reiling.
The Oaks took the lead with single runs in the third and fourth innings. Gunn High grad Greg Matson got the RBI in the fourth and Reiling scored in the fifth on an error. In the bottom of the fifth, the Expos struck back and took a 5-4 lead when a bunted ball was thrown away allowing two to score. Another run scored when a curve ball hit the front of the plate and ricocheted to the back screen.
The Oaks tied the score in the seventh when Palo Alto High grad Evan Warner led off with a single. Warner was moved to second on a bunt by Stiles. Vince Gutierrez walked to put runners on first and second. Warner then stole third to get into scoring position. Schulz then hit a chopper to the shortstop that scored Warner. The speedy Schulz also beat the throw to first.
The Expos, however, took the lead right back in the bottom of the eighth after a single, hit batter, and another single. The Oaks found themselves down a run with their last at-bat for the second time. After an out, Warner was hit by a pitch. Stiles then grounded out to the pitcher with Warner stealing on the pitch. That put Warner in scoring position with two outs. Gutierrez then walked and, after Schulz also walked, the Expos changed pitchers. With the bases loaded, the new Oakland pitcher walked Matson to tie the game. Grant Nelson then singled in a run and Reiling lined a two-run single to left-center to put Palo Alto on top, 9-6.
The Oaks needed only three outs to claim the title, but were dangerously thin in the pitching department. Reiling, the starting shortstop, came in to pitch the ninth. He promptly hit the first two batters he faced. A single by the No. 3 hitter loaded the bases for Oakland. The next batter hit a ground ball to Nelson at third, but the throw to the plate was in the dirt and everyone was safe.
Palo Alto still held a 9-7 lead, but the bases still were loaded. Reiling got ahead quickly on the No. 5 hitter before he plunked him to bring in another run. Oaks' manager Steve Espinoza quickly brought in Gunn grad Ricky Navarro from the bullpen to stem the tide.
Navarro got ahead on the count and then the miracle Oaks' fans were hoping for happened. A medium fly ball was hit to left field. Schulz made the catch and fired a strike to Finley at home in attempt to get the runner who had tagged up. Finley applied the tag to complete the double play. Navarro got the next batter to fly out in foul territory in right field and the Oaks had their championship.
Palo Alto opened the tournament on Friday with a seven-inning game against Novato. Blake McFarland picked up the victory while Stiles and Gutierrez collected three hits each. Down 3-1 in the fourth, the Oaks stormed back with seven runs in the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings to take a commanding 8-3 lead. Finley knocked in two with a double in the fourth and Grant Nelson did the same in the fifth as the Oaks produced an 8-4 victory.
In Game 2 against the Sacramento Scorch, Brant Norlander had to go an extra inning before the Oaks won by scoring two in the top of the eighth. Warner singled after an out and advanced on a grounder to short by Stiles. Gutierrez then walked to load the bases. Schulz was then hit by a pitch to produce the winning run. Norlander shut out the Scorch in eighth to end with a two-hitter. The one run Norlander gave up was not earned.
In a nine-inning Game 3, the Oaks faced long-time rival Fontanetti's. Jason Kafka pitched five innings and he was followed by Matson. Down 1-0 in the sixth, the Oaks scored four runs -- highlighted by Gutierrez's double that plated two. Fontanetti's struck back with three in the bottom of the inning to tie the score. In the seventh, the Oaks scored three more, highlighted by Finley's double over the left fielder's head that scored two runs.
In Game 4, another nine-inning affair against Santa Rosa, Paly grad Jason Kleinhoffer took the mound and held the host team to five runs through eight innings. The Oaks, however, found themselves down 5-4 in their last at-bat.
Reiling worked his way on with a walk to lead off the inning. Reiling stole second to get into scoring position and scored on a single by Warner through the right side.
The game went extra innings. After a scoreless 10th, Santa Rosa scored in the top of the 11th when a hit batter scored after back-to-back singles. The Oaks found themselves down again.
After an out, Will Klein singled. Warner tried to drag bunt, but he was thrown out. The bunt attempt did allow Klein to advance to second base. That brought up Stiles with two out. Stiles took a 1-1 outside fastball to left field for the game-tying run.
There was no scoring in the 12th and, after the host team could not score in the 13th, the Oaks took care of business. Nelson walked to lead off and Reiling sacrificed Nelson to second. Klein walked to put runners on first and second.
This brought the top of the lineup and Warner hit a ball back to the pitcher. While a double play looked to be automatic, the hustling Warner beat the throw to first to keep the inning alive. Stiles then delivered the game-winning hit down the first-base line and the Oaks had themselves a championship.
In other semipro games:
The Menlo Park Legends (35-8) saw their 12-game win streak end on Sunday in a 4-3 loss to the host Atwater Aviators in the first game of a doubleheader. Menlo Park bounced back to win the nightcap, 9-2.
The Legends will close the regular season on Wednesday by hosting the San Francisco Seagulls at Baylands Athletic Center at 7 p.m. On Friday, Menlo Park will visit Atwater again for a Pacific West Baseball League playoff game. The PWBL playoffs will continue Saturday and Sunday in Atwater.
AABC NorCal State Tournament
At Santa Rose JC
Novato Knicks 003 002 0 -- 4 10 0
Palo Alto Oaks 100 250 x -- 8 12 0
WP -- Blake McFarland. LP -- Jeff Roth.
3B -- Callan ( N). 2B -- Cole (N); Stiles 2, Gutierrez 2, Nelson, Finley, Klein (PA). 3 hits -- Cole (N); Stiles, Gutierrez (PA).
Palo Alto Oaks 000 100 2 -- 3 6 1
Sacramento Scorch 010 000 0 -- 1 2 1
WP -- Brant Norlander. LP -- Jeff Reboin.
2 hits -- Warner, Schulz (PA).
Palo Alto Oaks 000 004 300 -- 7 9 2
Fontanetti's 000 103 000 -- 4 5 0
WP -- Greg Matson. LP -- Chris Drake.
2B -- Finley, Gutierrez, Stiles (PA). 2 hits -- Schulz, Finley (PA); McDowell (F).
Santa Rosa 130 000 100 010 0 -- 6 10 1
Palo Alto Oaks 101 000 201 010 1 -- 7 13 0
WP -- Ricky Navarro.
3B -- Ray (SR). 2B -- Riedel, Derner (SR); Reiling (PA). 5 hits -- Stiles (PA). 2 hits -- Ray, Santora, Derner (SR); Klein, Schulz (PA).
Palo Alto Oaks 021 100 104 -- 9 9 2
Oakland Expos 200 030 012 -- 8 6 2
WP -- Jason Kleinhoffer. LP -- Jason Francis.
2B -- Reiling, Finley (PA). 2 hits -- Reiling, Finley (PA); White (OE).