The Palo Alto Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-stars advanced to the championship of the NorCal State Tournament with an 8-5 victory over visiting Ukiah at Baylands Athletic Center on Wednesday night.
Palo Alto will face undefeated Tri-Valley in the title game on Thursday at 5 p.m. Palo Alto, which had a heart-breaking 4-3 loss to Tri- Valley on Tuesday night, needs to win twice in order to advance to the Regional Tournament next week in Surprise, Ariz.
"The effort was fantastic," said Palo Alto head coach Rick Farr. "It's tough after you lose a heart-breaker last night. It was 4-1 and we got that first run in the bottom of the first that was huge. Their pitcher was their ace and he threw a lot this week. If we could knock him out, we knew we'd have an opportunity to score some runs."
Rallying from a 4-1 deficit after one inning, Palo Alto pulled into a tie after two. With the score still 4-4 in the fourth, Palo Alto's Aron Ecoff smashed a triple to center field, just out of the reach of the fielder's glove, and Niko Lillios and Shane Wallace came around to score -- giving Palo Alto a two-run lead.
"I thought that guy was going to run it down. It kind of seemed like it kept carrying and that was huge, it was the difference in the game," said Farr, whose team added another run in the fourth to make it a 7-4 game.
The first inning started off a little rough for Palo Alto's pitching and defense. Wallace loaded the bases and gave up a bases-clearing triple to center field by Miguel Contreras and it was a 4-0 Ukiah lead after the first half of the inning.
Lillios came in relief with one out in the first inning and shut down the next two batters. Lillios was huge for Palo Alto as he silenced Ukiah for five innings, giving up just one run on four hits.
"Niko was the guy tonight," said Farr. "He's been nursing an injury and hasn't really done anything for us in two weeks. Niko came in and gave us five innings, that was big."
In the second inning, Palo Alto rallied from a 4-1 Ukiah lead. Ole Erickson skied one to center field and John McGrory scored from third base and Palo Alto was on its way to a comeback.
Ecoff contributed to three RBI in the second and fourth innings, he had a solid game and went 2 for 4. Wallace, batting leadoff, went 4-for-4 with two stolen bases and two runs scored.
Ukiah was threatening to score in the sixth inning when it got runners to second and third with one out. Palo Alto's David Clarke came in relief for Lillios and struck out three out of the last five batters of the game.
"We were thinking we weren't going to use him, except for an inning, but we got into trouble and we figured to bring him in and he threw great," said Farr.
Palo Alto opened up its lead in the sixth inning when Clarke laid down the suicide squeeze and Jackson Hall scored from third base, giving Palo Alto the 8-5 advantage.
"We've got to get our offense going much sooner in the game," said Wallace about Thursday's matchup with Tri-Valley. "We need to get runs on the board and not let up on our defense. We need to be focused 100 percent."
In Woodland, the Palo Alto 14s will face Tri-Valley in the consolation finals after PA posted a 4-3 win over Novato and Tri-Valley suffered a 7-6 loss to Woodland at Clark Field.
Palo Alto was down to its last out in the top of the seventh, but scored twice to pull out the victory.
Palo Alto will take the field at 6 p.m., needing a victory to reach the title game on Friday at 5 p.m. Should that happen, Palo Alto would have to win twice in order to advance to the Regional Tournament next week in Riverton, Utah.