Late rally lifts Menlo Park Legends past PUF Capitalists


The Menlo Park Legends and Pacific Union Financial Capitalists played to a stalemate for nearly nine innings at Palo Alto High on a warm Sunday afternoon.

It wasn't until a controversial double by Sean Watkins to start the top of the ninth inning helped decide things.

Sean Watkins/LMU Athletics
Watkins scored on an RBI single by Tyler Nelin, providing the Legends with an 8-7 victory, in which Caps manager Mike Zirelli got ejected.

Watkins' double down the third base line off Leo Nierenberg was ruled fair by the home plate umpire, much to the dismay of Caps fans who had a good view of the play.

Zirelli bounced out of the dugout to voice his displeasure with the home plate umpire and was quickly tossed from the game.

When play resumed, Turner Bishop singled off reliever Austin Manning, moving Watkins to third.

Watkins scored on a line single to right by Nelin.

Zirelli, a 1995 alum of St. Francis High in Mountain View, pitched at Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo before being drafted in the 23rd round of the 1999 MLB Draft by the San Francisco Giants.

"I thought the ball was foul," said Zirelli, who started the Caps four years ago. "Obviously, a game isn't decided by one play. Our guys did a great job. It was a super-competitive game. It was a one-run ball game."

The Capitalists (1-1) fared well, considering they consist entirely of recent high school graduates, mostly coming from out of the area.

The Legends (7-1), coached by Menlo-Atherton grad David Klein, play in the California Collegiate League North Division where they are 1-1 in the early going.

The Legends had a fine outing on the mound by starter Ryan Lefner, who toils for St. Louis University during the spring. Lefner retired seven in a row at one juncture, the streak stopped when Andrew Martinez reached first on a strike out-wild pitch.

Lefner set down five of the next six hitters before running out of steam in the fifth inning. That's when the Caps put up five runs to take the lead.

Lefner left the game after five innings, recording seven strikeouts.

Trailing 3-1, the Caps had a one-out double by Cameron Eden, a hit-batsmen, a walk and a 3-run double by Javier Valdez Jr., who had doubled in a run in the first inning.

Sacred Heart Prep grad Andrew Daschbach laced a triple to center to plate Valdez and scored on an infield ground out by James Free.

The Legends bounced back with two runs in the top of the sixth. Nelin drew a walk in front of a single by Serra High product Scott Ota.

A fielder's choice grounder got one run in. Los Altos High grad Steven McLean, who starts in the infield at Baylor, doubled off the glove of Valdez at third for another run.

After a walk, Ryan Rosa hit a sharp grounder to Valdez, who caught McLean straying from the third base bag. Valdez threw to catcher Maverick Handley, who tagged out McLean. Handley then threw to Martinez, who tagged out Justin Jacobs trying to get to third for the unorthodox double play.

The Caps extended their lead to 7-5 on a two-out double by Dominic Fletcher.

The Legends knotted the game in the top of the seventh on a two-out, two-run homer by Nelin, whose shot to left-center cleared the wall.

Five of Legends' runs came with two out. Menlo Park took a 3-1 lead in the second on an infield single by Ota, a stinging double down the left field line by Ryan McCarthy and a two-run shot to right by Thomas Caulfield, the ball hitting off the high fence.

Caulfield, who had doubled in the fourth inning, combined with McLean to produce three doubles and a home run out of the No. 9 spot in the order.

Watkins, a 2014 alum of Serra High in San Mateo, retired six straight batters in the final two innings to get the win.

"It was a wild game," said Watkins, who plays baseball at Loyola Marymount. "The Caps are a great ball club with a lot of talent out of high school. We knew coming in we'd face good pitching and good hitting. We had timely hitting. We have talent. Most importantly, all the guys are great. We jell together and have fun, even though we just met two weeks ago."

"We had some missed opportunities," Klein said. "The team is finding a way to get it done. We've had some one-run ball games. We're still missing a few guys."

Daschbach, who is committed to Stanford, hit a tape-measure homer in the Caps' opener on Friday, adding a triple and a single. He is 5-for-8 with 3 RBI in his first two games this summer.

"I got the call from coach Zirelli," Daschbach said. "He said this team will prepare me for college. I jumped all over the opportunity. It has been a great experience. We're only going to get better."

Fletcher, roaming center field with aplomb, made the defensive play of the game when he charged in to rob Bishop of a hit in the seventh inning, making a diving catch.

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