By Colin Becht
Palo Alto Online Sports
After the Palo Alto 14-year-old all-stars' game on Saturday, manager Andrew Shenk compared his team to the San Francisco Giants for their tendency to create torturous outcomes that put both the players and spectators through intense fits of nervousness.
Saturday's ending would have made even the King of Torture, Giants' closer Brian Wilson, proud.
Palo Alto nearly blew an 8-1 seventh-inning lead to Mountain View, surrendering six runs before tagging out the tying run at third as Mike Bowes tried to stretch his gapper into a triple. The 8-7 nailbiter win at Baylands earned Palo Alto the District 6 championship and advanced the team to the NorCal State Tournament in Woodland.
Palo Alto will face the tournament's host, Woodland, next Saturday at 7 p.m.
"To go to the state tournament, I'm real excited," starting pitcher Ellis Obrien said. "It's one of the best feelings of my life."
It was Palo Alto's second dramatic win over Mountain View in the district tournament as the team blew a 10-3 seventh-inning lead before winning 11-10 on Thursday.
"We have some guys that are stuck in Little League because we're apparently a very good six-inning team," Shenk said. "Hey, we like to provide a thrilling game."
The route to the championship looked to be far less bumpy entering the final half-inning of play on Saturday as Palo Alto needed to simply continue stranding Mountain View base runners as it had done all day. Instead, relief pitcher Corbin Koch struggled with his control and was the unfortunate victim of a two-base error as six of the eight batters he faced reached base.
With two outs, the bases loaded and the tying run at the plate, Shenk turned the ball over to Leo McCabe to face Bowes. Bowes launched a 2-0 pitch into the right-center gap, a shot that easily cleared the bases. However, as Bowes tried to stretch his hit to a triple, Palo Alto conducted a perfect relay from centerfielder Andrew Robinson to shortstop Riley Haught to third baseman Roy Shadmon to gun down Bowes and clinch the championship.
"Thank goodness Riley had a great relay throw there to third and we got the last out," Shenk said. "All I did was turn and go, 'I hope Roy is covering third,' and sure enough he was sprinting back to the back so that made my day."
When Shadmon came in to score on a sacrifice fly by Haught in the top of the seventh after doubling to left-center, he had little idea that he would be the game-winning run. Shadmon, reached base in all four of his plate appearances including two hits, scored four times on Saturday.
He was a part of a four-run first inning that until Mountain View's late rally appeared to be all the offense Palo Alto would need.
"You score first, you win usually better than 80 percent of the time," Shenk said. "Getting four in the first inning was huge."
McCabe singled to right to score Kenta Yanagisawa and Shadmon and Obrien helped his own cause by executing a suicide squeeze bunt to score Haught. Obrien's squeeze bunt was all the more impressive considering that the pitch might have pegged him in the face had he not gotten the bunt down.
"He did well with the bat today, especially early on with that sac bunt," Shenk said. "The sac bunt almost took his teeth out. That was an amazing play."
Spotted those four runs before ever throwing a pitch, Obrien tossed a gem, throwing five and two-thirds innings and allowing just one run. Obrien scattered seven hits, three walks and three hit batsmen by constantly escaping jams, stranding 11 runners, five of them in scoring position.
"I had command of my splitter, which was a new pitch for me," Obrien said. "I've been kind of playing around with it but today was the first game I actually threw it, so it was a pretty new deal for me but it happened to work well."
Palo Alto added another run in the third and two more in the fifth as Obrien roped a two-out single into right field to score Shadmon and McCabe. Obrien finished the game with four RBI.
Palo Alto National advanced in the consolation bracket of the District 52 11-12 All-Star Tournament with a 10-8 victory over Menlo-Atherton on Saturday at Palo Alto's Middlefield Ballpark.
Palo Alto will play defending champion Hillsborough on Sunday at 5:30 p.m., with the winner taking on unbeaten San Carlos American on Monday (7 p.m.) for the title. Hillsborough knocked Palo Alto into the consolation bracket with a 5-1 win on Tuesday.
Palo Alto got off to a fast start in the top of the first with singles by Ethan Stern and Riley Schoeben. With two on, Alec Olmstead launched a three-run homer. In the bottom of the inning, Menlo-Atherton answered with a three-run home run by Bret Rodrigues. It was the second straight day that both Olmstead and Rodrigues had homered.
In the third, Palo Alto added two runs off singles by Schoeben and Charlie Racz and a walk by Olmstead. M-A once again answered when Angelo Athens slammed a two-run homer.
In the fourth, Palo Alto kept the pressure on with three more runs off doubles by starting pitcher Ryan Chang, Griffy Byer, Stern, and Justin Hull. Once again, M-A counter-punched with two of its own with a lead-off double by Cole Hagerman and singles by Connor Nathan and Athens.
Both teams added a run in the fifth and Palo Alto added an insurance run in the top of the sixth.
Chang pitched four innings for Palo Alto before being relieved by Ben Cleasby. Olmstead came on in the bottom of the sixth to close out the game with two strikeouts and a force at third.