Sports


Menlo goes from missing playoffs to winning a CCS title

 

Menlo School didn't get the official championship trophy and it didn't get enough individual medals for each of its players. No matter, nothing will take away from the memory of one of the most astounding turnarounds in Central Coast Section baseball history.

After going 6-22 last season, No. 3-seeded Menlo completed a remarkable reversal Saturday afternoon, jumping on top-seeded Carmel early and clinching the CCS Division II title with a 9-4 win at San Jose Municipal Stadium.

"You don't play the game for the trophy, you play for your teammates," Knights coach Ryan Cavan said. "You play for the guy on your left, the guy on your right. That's what they did today."

Cavan, who had the game-winning hit for Menlo in the 2004 CCS Division III title game, credited his 12 seniors for leading the remarkable reversal.

"The commitment level and the leadership from the seniors, it was just night and day," Cavan said. "And we had 12 seniors -- I don't know if Menlo has ever had 12 seniors -- and all of them were committed to this team. And when you have 'Strength in Numbers', like the Warriors, it's really great."

Senior shortstop Jared Lucian had three singles and two RBI and junior starter Chandler Yu pitched five innings and improved to 11-1 this season as the Knights scored the game's first seven runs.

"Last year we were all juniors and it was our first time in varsity and we didn't know what it took," Lucian said. "But this year we knew and we all stuck together even when times got rough in the middle of the season."

Menlo (24-7) scored in each of the first four innings. Lucian's RBI single, senior Carson Gampell's sacrifice fly and senior David Farnham's RBI single made it 3-0 in the first inning.

"They're a great team and I don't think they were behind a lot this year, and I think that just rattled them," Lucian said.

The Knights continued to pour it on in the second inning, with senior Rylan Pade's two-run single to left putting Menlo up 5-0. A two-out single by Ben Solmorjai in the third and another RBI single by Lucian in the fourth made it 7-0.

Meanwhile, after stranding three runners in scoring position in the first two innings, Yu shut down Carmel until the fifth, when the Padres finally scored twice in Yu's final frame before he reached his innings limit for the week.

"I knew with our bats coming alive in the first inning, I could settle down and get my pitches over and not have to nibble around the plate," Yu said. "Because we had so many good hitters on this team, we're just going to keep adding runs."

Yu had thrown about 75 pitches and went five innings in the 10-7 semifinal win over Capuchino on Tuesday. He gave up four hits, struck out three, and worked around two errors on Saturday while working in the 89-degree heat.

"As soon as you get to this time of the year, nothing can really bother you," Yu said. "You just have to fight as hard as you can and do whatever it takes to win."

With Carmel finally gaining a bit of momentum after its two-run inning, Menlo immediate responded. Lucian and Gampell hit back-to-back singles to start the sixth and eventually came around to score, putting the Knights up 9-2.

"They stole bases, hit, played good defense," Cavan said. "It really wouldn't have mattered who we played today. The way they played was fabulous."

Centerfielder RJ Babiera pitched the final two innings in relief. Carmel's first three batters reached in the seventh, but senior middle infielders Lucian and Davis Rich helped turn a double play to alleviate the pressure, and Ben Weber popped out to Lucian at short with a runner at second to end the game and clinch Menlo's first CCS title since 2011 and sixth in program history.

Menlo players threw their gloves and caps in the air before jumping into a celebratory pile near the mound. Soon they would be taking pictures next to their fans as "We Are the Champions" played over the loudspeaker.

The Division II trophy couldn't be located by tournament officials immediately before the awards presentation, forcing Menlo to lift a fill-in trophy for photographs. Cavan also found himself about 10 medals short after giving out the awards in his postgame meeting.

Still, nothing could put a damper on the celebration. It was a turnaround reminiscent of 1987-88, when the Knights followed an 8-19 year with a 25-5 CCS title-winning season.

"I know that nobody on the team was happy with how we did last year," Lucian said. "We wanted to make sure that year didn't carry over to this year, and so we did everything in our power to work extra hard, stay after practice as long as we could, just to make sure we had the opportunity to play in this game."

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