By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
After already playing three games earlier in the week and facing as many as three more contests in the coming week, Saturday's nonleague baseball game with host Menlo School seemed almost an added burden for Palo Alto.
Not so, said Paly coach Erick Raich, who certainly didn't mind watching his squad post a 14-7 victory over the Knights in a makeup game that was rained out earlier in the season.
"That's better than practicing at this time of season," Raich said. "I like these games. When it comes down to the playoffs, you want your arms to have plenty of experience."
Raich saw Saturday's victory as a good tuneup for the coming week, when Paly will open the SCVAL De Anza Division playoffs against Los Altos on Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. The best-of-three series will shift to Los Altos on Thursday, with a final game (if necessary) set for Paly on Friday at 3:30 p.m.
The winner will advance to the playoff finals against the Wilcox-Homestead winner. At stake will be a lofty seed in the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Raich thought Saturday's makeup game had numerous benefits.
"We saw two of their better arms," Raich said of Menlo's Jake Bruml and Freddy Avis. "Those are two similar guys that we're going to see against Los Altos."
Another benefit is facing a potential league champion (or co-champ). Palo Alto already has face five teams expected to win their leagues.
"That's how you get your team better," Raich said of facing top competition. Paly did lose to St. Francis, but the Lancers are now ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Palo Alto and Menlo probably weren't at their very best Saturday, partially due to the game being each team's fourth of the week. The squads combined for 19 hits and 11 errors but the game was entertaining for both – especially the Vikings.
After losing a 6-0 lead in the fourth, Palo Alto baseball stormed back with four runs in the fifth and seventh innings to secure the triumph. The game matched last season's CCS Division III champ (Menlo) and Division II runnerup (Palo Alto). The Vikings improved to 20-7 with their ninth straight victory while the Knights dropped to 18-5.
Menlo scored six runs in the fourth to tie the game at 6 as Tim Benton singled in two runs and Bruml doubled in two more. Palo Alto, however, came right back with four runs in the fifth despite getting only one hit. Paly scored twice when B.J. Boyd, who had three hits, and Christoph Bono each stole third base, with the throw from catcher Austin Marcus going into left field each time. That gave the Vikings a 10-6 lead.
T.J. Braff scored the same way for Paly in the third after doubling.
Menlo missed a golden opportunity in the fifth when it loaded the based with no outs. Sam Maliska came on in relief for Paly and got a fielder's choice, a pop out to short and a fly out to to left to escape without any damage.
Paly scored four more in the seventh as Austin Braff produced a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and his brother, senior T.J., singled home two more before pinch-hitter George Brown was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. T.J. Braff finished with three hits and four RBI to cap a week that saw Paly win four games. He had nine hits and 12 RBI in the four victories.
Bruml led Menlo with three hits and three RBI, including a solo homer over the left-field fence in the bottom of the seventh. He leads the CCS in RBI this season.
Palo Alto got solid pitching from starter Drake Swezey and relievers John Dickerson, Maliska and Grahm Marchant. Dickerson got the win after putting out the fire following Menlo's six-run fourth. Menlo was forced to go with Avis after Bruml was chased after Paly built its 6-0 lead. Avis, however, pitched a complete game on Wednesday in a win over St. Ignatius and threw another 75 pitches against Paly.
If Saturday's game was a tuneup for the remainder of the season, the Vikings appear solid at pitching while Menlo has to hope the few strong arms it has will be enough to defend its CCS title.
In other nonleague action Saturday:
Host Sacred Heart Prep (12-10) managed just one hit and dropped a 1-0 decision to International (San Francisco) while host Gunn (8-10-1) got just four hits during a 7-0 loss to St. Ignatius. Graham Fisher got two of the Titans' hits, one a double.
After opening with two victories on Friday, Castilleja dropped a pair on Saturday at the NorCal Classic near Fresno. The Gators managed just one hit and fell to St. Francis, 11-0, and then lost to Sonora, 8-7, despite two doubles from Annie Apffel.