The Palo Alto Oaks semipro baseball team made program history last summer when it earned a trip to the AABC World Series in Houston, Texas. The Oaks added another page to their history book by earning a return trip on Sunday.
Palo Alto High grad Jason Kleinhoffer recorded an out with a hidden-ball trick and then struck out the final batter to preserve an 11-8 triumph over the Bandido's in the championship game of the AABC Stan Musial Western States Regional at Jackie Robinson Field at Brookside Park in Pasadena.
The Oaks (20-1) will travel to Houston next Tuesday, Aug. 9, for the AABC Stan Musial World Series. Palo Alto will open against the North Atlantic winner on Aug. 10. The Oaks went 2-2 and finished third in last year's World Series.
"Last year's participation will certainly help," said Palo Alto manager Steve Espinoza. "The guys who went last year are very excited to be going back and for the opportunity to win it all. I need some more pitching or we have no chance!"
Palo Alto had enough pitching this past weekend because it needed to win only three games after the NorCal No. 2 team, the Longhorns, dropped out of the tournament and made it a three-team affair.
The Oaks opened with a 15-2 victory over the Pasadena Redbirds and earned a berth in the finals with a 9-4 victory over the Bandido's, who later advanced by eliminating the Redbirds.
Brant Norlander started the championship game for the Oaks, who jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning. Jeff Ramirez singled and stole second. Bryan Beres doubled down the left-field line to score Ramirez. Sam Wilkins hit a triple over the left-fielder's head to plate Beres and then scored on an errant pickoff attempt.
The visiting Oaks scored another run in the top of the third when Allen Stiles led off with a single. Stiles was caught stealing for the first out. Stanford's Tyler Gaffney walked and advanced to third on a single by Anthony Bona. Nick Borg drove home Gaffney with a deep fly to center field for a 4-0 lead.
But the Bandido's, with a reputation for having a lot of heart, came right back in the bottom of the third. A walk to the leadoff batter and back-to-back singles plated one. On the second single to center, the ball was misplayed and that allowed another run to score while putting the batter on third with none out. A sacrifice fly netted the third run and suddenly it was a 4-3 game.
The Oaks lengthened their lead with two more runs in the fourth. Beres doubled again to lead things off. Wilkins singled in Beres. A perfect hit-and-run by Will Klein (the Oaks were successful on six of seven hit-and-runs), put Wilkins on third with no outs. Palo Alto High grad Evan Warner knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly to put the Oaks up 6-3.
However, the Bandido's came from behind to take the lead when the leadoff batter singled. That was followed by another single and a walk to load the bases with no outs. A passed ball put the runner on third in motion to try and score, but Beres tossed to Norlander to record the out. A bunt, however, couldn't be handled and a run scored for a 6-4 game. An RBI single made it 6-5 and another walk brought Espinoza to the mound.
The call went for the veteran Kleinhoffer, who has played on the team for eight years. Kleinhoffer got ahead on his first batter, but a single drove home two. Kleinhoffer induced a flyout and groundout to end the inning, but the Bandido's were suddenly ahead in the game for the first time at 7-6.
Palo Alto showed its heart by tying the score in the top of the next inning. Bona singled to lead things off. Borg executed a hit-and-run to advance Bona to third. Ramirez lofted a long fly to centerfield to score Bona and tie the score.
There was no scoring in the sixth, but the Oaks grabbed the lead in the seventh when Gaffney and Bona both singled. Rather than bunt with Borg, who had been hitting the ball hard all tournament, Espinoza let him swing away. However, Borg flied out to center and the runners did not advance.
A walk to Ramirez loaded the bases and a new pitcher was brought in. Gaffney scored on a wild pitch to give the Oaks the lead at 8-7. A fielder's choice on a potential double play ground ball by Wilkins allowed Bona to score and it was 9-7.
The Bandido's scratched out a run when a wild throw on a grounder to third allowed the leadoff man to reach second. That was followed by an RBI single. Kleinhoffer, however, worked his way out of trouble to end the inning with the Oaks holding a 9-8 lead.
In the top of the eighth, the Oaks scored again when Warner led off with a single over the third baseman's head, who was playing in to prevent a drag bunt. The speedy Warner quickly stole second. Stiles hit a sharp ball into right field, but it was hit so hard Espinoza held up Warner at third. Gaffney singled to left to score Warner, but Stiles was thrown out trying to advance. With one out, Bona singled to score Gaffney and the Oaks had a more comfortable 11-8 lead.
Kleinhoffer needed only six outs at that point for the Oaks to secure their second straight trip to the World Series. A perfect eighth inning put the Oaks within three outs. But the Bandido's did not quit.
A leadoff walk was followed by a single to put runners on first and second. A flyout to center set up a memorable play for the Oaks. Will Klein got the ball from center and instead of giving it to Kleinhoffer, hid it in his glove. Kleinhoffer waited on the back side of the mound and when the runner on second wandered off the bag, Klein tagged him to complete the hidden-ball trick. Kleinhoffer then sent the Oaks to the World Series when he struck out the final batter.
The team hug on the mound ensued with Kleinhoffer at the center of it.
In the 15-2 win over the Pasadena Redbirds, Ramirez drove in five runs with a triple, single, and walk. Bona was on base all five times he was up, and Tyler Finley knocked in two with a double in the third inning. Matt Campbell started the game, but pitched only four innings as the game was under control. Graham Rodriguez took over and pitched well to close out the win.
In the semifinals, the Oaks pulled off a 9-4 victory against the Bandido's, the No. 1 team from Southern California.
The Oaks found themselves down early as the Bandido's scored once in the first off starter Greg Matson, the Gunn grad, and added another run in the fourth for a 2-0 lead.
The Oaks, who had been putting the ball in play but without any results, got things going in the top of the fifth. After a flyout, Joe McLaughlin singled. That was followed by Nick Borg's blast into the right-centerfield gap for a double. Vince Gutierrez singled to left to score McLaughlin. That brought up Alex Sortwell, who hit a ball sharply to the shortstop, who couldn't handle the play. That allowed Borg to score and it was 2-2.
The Bandido's took a 3-2 lead in the fifth on a triple and single, but the Oaks answered right back when Gaffney hit a majestic home run over the left centerfield wall. The blast was high and far over the 385-foot sign, traveling an estimated 410 feet -- reportedly one of the longest home runs (with a wood bat) at the field in 20 years.
TheBandido's grabbed a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the inning, but Palo Alto tied the game at 4 in the seventh. The teams missed scoring opportunities, which eventually forced extra innings.
In the 11th, the Oaks exploded. McLaughlin led off by being hit by a pitch. Borg doubled again to put runners on second and third. An intentional walk to Gutierrez loaded the bases with none out. With the infield in, Warner knocked in two with a chopper over the second baseman's head. Stiles then launched a deep fly to center to score another run. That brought up Gaffney, who crushed another homer over the centerfield wall for a 9-4 lead.
Campbell set the Bandido's down in order in the bottom of the 11th, two by strikeout.
The Oaks are now in a hurry-up mode to make expensive, last-minute travel plans to Texas. For those interested in supporting the Oaks' participation in the Stan Musial World Series this year, please contact head coach Steve Espinoza at firstname.lastname@example.org or make your check payable to 'Palo Alto Oaks' and send it to the Palo Alto Oaks c/o 1860 Wagner Avenue, Mountain View, CA 94043.