By Colin Becht
Palo Alto Online Sports
With an 11-1 win on Thursday night, the Palo Alto 15-year-old all-stars earned seven more innings of baseball. A three-run rally on Friday night earned them two more. Palo Alto made the most of its extra innings.
Palo Alto defeated Bel-Mateo, 6-5, in nine innings in the District 6 championship challenge game at Mountain View's McKelvey Park to claim the district title and earn a berth in the NorCal State Tournament. Palo Alto will begin its run for a title on July 16 in Elk Grove.
Leftfielder Chris Lee drove in the game-winning run for Palo Alto on Friday night, driving in Alec Furrier with no outs in the bottom of the ninth for a walk-off win. Furrier began the inning with a triple to right-center, Palo Alto's only extra-base hit of the day. Bel-Mateo then intentionally walked the next two batters to create a forceout at home, putting the pressure all on Lee.
"When they walked the two guys, I went up to Chris and I said, 'Hey, be ready. We might do a squeeze here,'" manager Ron Fried said. "He goes, 'You're kidding, bases loaded and no outs, you're going to squeeze?' I said, 'You going to get the hit?' He goes, 'Yeah, I'll get the hit.'"
Lee and Furrier's heroics were made possible only by an incredible three-run rally in the seventh inning that revived Palo Alto when it was down to its final out.
Trailing 5-2 with runners on second and third and two outs, first baseman Christian Kurtella blooped a ball into a Bermuda Triangle between the shortstop and the left fielder, scoring Marcus Avelar and Chris Smith. Kurtella then came around to score the tying run on a base hit up the middle by Daniel Tachna-Fram.
"I figured if we could just get one guy one, then we'll see what happens from there," Fried said. "Then they've got to start focusing a little more. (The pitcher) starts to lose the zone a little bit."
With only three hits entering the seventh inning, Palo Alto more than doubled its hit total as it finally got to Bel-Mateo starter Jesse Austin, driving him from the game.
"They tried to go with him as long as they could. He just started losing the zone, getting tired," Fried said. "If you're going to leave the guy in there for seven innings, we're going to start taking pitches and force the guy to start throwing more and more pitches. That's when he started to lose it."
Austin tossed a gem in Bel-Mateo's 4-3 victory over Palo Alto in opening round of the district tournament.
Smith threw four innings of nearly perfect relief, surrendering just one hit to allow Palo Alto to climb back into the game and then hold the tie long enough for Lee's game-winner. Smith, the game's winning pitcher, walked one batter and pegged another while striking out four.
"I had my knuckleball going on. I just tried to keep it low, don't give them anything to hit, get ahead early in the count," Smith said. "They were hitting a lot of ground balls and it was working."
Palo Alto struck first on Friday night, scoring twice in the second inning on just one hit. Lee drove in a run with a flyout to right field as Tachna-Fram employed a nice hook slide to just beat the tag. Jacob Hoffman also scored on a throwing error.
However, Palo Alto starter Brett Moriarty struggled with his control in the third after perfect first and second innings. Four walks and a three-run double by Neil Sterling allowed Bel-Mateo to score four times.
Bel-Mateo added an insurance run in the fifth with back-to-back doubles, but Hoffman limited the damage on the hill, preventing another run from scoring despite facing runners on second and third with no outs. Hoffman's ability to escape the jam proved crucial as Palo Alto found just enough offence in the seventh to claw its way back into the game.
"I can't say enough about our guys and just the resiliency to hang in there, down 5-2 in the bottom of the seventh, and somehow make things happen," Fried said.