Craig Schoof was very emotional after Menlo School's baseball game at San Jose Municipal Stadium on Tuesday, and the longtime head coach had every reason to be affected by the day's events.
Menlo's 3-1 loss to No. 8-seeded Branham (19-14) in the semifinals of the Central Coast Section Division II playoffs marked the end of Schoof's coaching career at Menlo.
The loss also brought an end of an improbable CCS run for Menlo, as the No. 12-seeded Knights (19-13) had previously knocked off No. 5-seeded Capuchino and No. 4-seeded Santa Cruz to reach the semifinals. Overall, Menlo pitchers allowed just four runs in three CCS games.
"I've never been prouder of a team when you consider what we've lost over the past couple of years," Schoof said. "We talked about getting back to our fifth straight CCS championship game and we fell only two runs short."
Schoof had been the baseball head coach at Menlo for 27 years (1984-92 and 1997-2014), winning 17 league titles and five CCS championships while qualifying for section action 22 times. Schoof said he will be moving to Southern California next school year to become the Director of Physical Education, Wellness and Athletics at the Oakwood School in North Hollywood.
"Coach Schoof has meant everything to me and our team. He is Menlo baseball," said Stanford-bound senior Mikey Diekroeger. "He's the reason Menlo baseball and Menlo athletics have been so successful. His success has been unparalleled by any other coach or athletic director in the area."
During his 13 years as athletic director, Menlo teams have won two state titles, 15 NorCal crowns, 30 CCS championships and 120 league titles. His baseball team this season had the highest cumulative grade-point average (3.6176) of any team in the section and was honored for it prior to the game.
Schoof, meanwhile, was not the only person to don the Knights' jersey for the final time Tuesday, as Menlo has six graduating seniors on its roster.
"Playing with the seniors and the rest of the team has been so much fun this year," said senior Graham Stratford, who will play at the University of Redlands next season. "I've played with a great group of guys, and I don't know how I'm going to play without them."
Stratford and Diekroeger, two of the captains on the team, paced the Knights offensively against Branham, getting on base a combined five times from the top two slots in the order.
Unfortunately, the rest of their teammates did not provide much help, as only two other Menlo players were able to reach base safely.
Menlo got on the scoreboard in the top of the first inning, as sophomore Carson Gampell's two-out RBI single off Branham starting pitcher Alex Zarate gave Menlo an early 1-0 lead.
However, the Knights' advantage did not last long.
Menlo's starting pitcher, senior Wyatt Driscoll, looked uncomfortable in bottom half of the inning, walking the first two Bruin batters he faced, and eventually allowing two RBI singles and a sacrifice fly that gave Branham a 3-1 advantage.
"If we erase that first inning, and played the way we wanted to, I think we could have won that game," Stratford said. "It's too bad the game went the way it did."
For the next six innings both pitchers settled down considerably, and neither allowed a run for the rest of the contest. Both pitchers only allowed two more hits after the first inning.
"Wyatt's always been clutch for us, he always thrown strikes," Stratford said of his fellow senior. "He's had an amazing season, and I'm so proud of him."
After suffering a football injury two years ago, Driscoll underwent a total of 17 surgeries. Schoof said he thought Driscoll might never walk again after what he endured. Just getting back to the field and achieving what he did was remarkable.
After falling behind early, Menlo's best chance to score came in the sixth inning, as Diekroeger reached on an error by Branham first baseman Chris Kiefer, and Stratford hit a bunt single to set up runners at first and third with nobody out.
Nothing came of the rally, however, as Jared Lucian lined into a fielder's choice, and Gampell grounded into a double play to end the inning.
Along with Diekroeger, Driscoll and Stratford, Sam Crowder, Christian Pluchar and Joe Farnham will also be graduating from the program. Their head coach was appreciative of all the intangibles the group of seniors brought to the club this year.
"There's a large group of underclassman on this team (only 10 innings of pitching experience returned), but it was the seniors who led us," Schoof said. "They had been here before and they knew what it took."
With the season at a close, Schoof was able to reflect not only on the 2014 Menlo team, but the multitude of great years the Knights enjoyed under his watch.
"I don't think those who were around in the early eighties would have thought Menlo would have reached these heights," Schoof said. "The goal was to build a program. I don't think I ever dreamed of one CCS title let alone five. That's a credit to the support the school gave, the kids, and the coaches."
With Menlo ousted, the last remaining local baseball team is Menlo-Atherton. The Bears (18-12-1), also seeded 12th, will take on No. 1 Wilcox (23-8) in a Division I semifinal Thursday at San Jose Muni at 7 p.m.