By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Menlo College baseball coach Matt Dailey calls it "one of those magical years," and you won't get much argument from anyone who has followed the Oaks' progress this season.
Menlo clinched the South Division of the NAIA West (Cascade) Conference and will host the five-team, double-elimination tournament beginning Wednesday at 9 a.m.
The Oaks, seeded first, will open play at 3 p.m. against the winner of the early game between College of Idaho (29-19) and Patten (24-28), the fourth and fifth seeded teams. There is also a noon game scheduled between No. 2 seeded British Columbia (27-14) and No. 3 Simpson (14-26).
The tournament is scheduled to run through Saturday, if necessary. Tickets will be available at the gate and the Menlo College website will post undated reports throughout the week.
"You're going to see quality athletes, pro prospects, coming from outside the area," Dailey said. "We will have our hands full. We will need to play good baseball."
The Oaks (32-14 overall, 24-5 at home) find themselves in the postseason for the first time ever, creating excitement on campus and around the community.
"This is new territory for us," Dailey said. "You have to have a little luck along the way but for the most part the kids have worked hard and are being rewarded. We hope to continue playing as long as possible."
Menlo-Atherton grad Ty Finley has been the Oaks' starting catcher for three years, helping shape a pitching staff that has set new standards for the program. Senior Adam Koontz became the school's all-time wins leader at 13, and junior Chris Mazza became the school's all-time saves leader with eight.
"(Finley) has done a great job for us," Dailey said. "We're playing more games than we ever have before and it's hard to ask a kid to catch 50 games. It's special because he's from the area and has seen the development."
Derek Martinez (8-4, 2.59) and Sean Sweeney (8-1, 2.72) join Koontz (5-2, 5.89) and Mazza (1-2, 2.60, 7 saves) as the top starters. Kyer Vega (4-1, 4.06) has a team-high 19 appearances.
Palo Alto High grad Jimmy Meuel, who attended Willamette, serves as the Oaks' pitching coach.
"Coach Meuel has done a great job," Dailey said. "Pitching has been our mainstay."
Martinez has pitched all four of the team's complete games and all three of its shutouts. He has yet to allow a home run in his 83 innings.
Mazza is not only Menlo's closer, but its leading hitter. He has a team-best .348 batting average and is second with 40 RBI and five home runs. Collin Forgey (.263, 4 homers) leads the Oaks with 41 RBI while Paul Oakley has driven in 32.
Will Pierce leads Menlo with seven home runs. Michel Brandi (.310) and Coleman Cox (.304) also have hit .300 or better.
Dailey arrived at Menlo three years ago, after spending three years as an assistant coach at Santa Clara. He's also made coaching stops at Del Mar CC, Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Portland, Lewis and Clark (where he played for two years before graduating from Notre Dame), Georgetown, and the Saint Cloud Riverbats.
He scouted for the San Diego Padres for two years prior to gaining the position with the Broncos under Mark O'Brien.
"It's the nature of baseball," said Dailey, a product of Los Gatos High. "I enjoyed my experiences but it was a dream to have my own program. I love the balance of academics and athletics and I'm a big believer in the small college program. I like to believe I took anyway something from everyone, and particularly from coach O'Brien."
Menlo College, for the first time in its history, will also be able to offer athletic scholarships beginning in the fall, putting the school on more of a competitive balance with its counterparts.
"Not one kid is on an athletic scholarship right now and yet we're playing scholarship baseball schools," Dailey said. "A lot of kids see the potential of a small school and California baseball."