A chilly night air blew hard to right field at Marina Field in Belmont on Thursday evening. Alpine-West Menlo did its best to send several freezing spectators home early, thwarting Palo Alto American, 10-0, in a pivotal District 52 Little League 10-11-year-old tourney contest. The game was called in the fourth inning due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Alpine heads to the winners bracket final against Belmont-Redwood Shores on Saturday at 10 a.m. The victor holds the hammer in Tuesday's title game at 5:30 p.m. PA American plays either San Mateo American or San Mateo National in a losers bracket game on Saturday at 3 p.m.
"Going into the tournament, we believed in the kids," Bianchi said. "In our scrimmages, we did not play well. That was partly a function of figuring out who are aces were and where our best positions were. The kids came out with passion and fire in that first game. They've learned that's what you need to win baseball games. They've played all three games like that."
George Zaharias and Ben Lamm combined to limit PA American to one infield single, striking out six batters. The lone hit came when Niko Shieh beat out an roller to third with two out in the top of the fourth.
Three other PA American runners reached base. Kelvin Jiang got on board via an error in the first inning. Austin Stull drew a walk in the third, while Deuce Filter walked before Shieh's single.
"We threw strikes and caught the ball," Bianchi said. "Throughout the order, we put the ball in play."
"We have a bunch of versatile players who can play a bunch of positions," Zaharias said.
Lamm looped a single over third to lead off the bottom of the first. Jake Bianchi laced a double to left as Lamm slid into third base, barely beating a strong throw. John Rogers singled to center for a run. An infield out by Evan Eyre brought home Bianchi.
Alpine plated three unearned runs with two out in the bottom of the third on one hit, a two-run double to right by Sam Norris. The left-handed hitting Norris didn't miss a home run by much as the ball hit off the fence.
Zaharias ripped a three-run home run over the center field wall in a five-run fourth inning, scoring Sam Ha and Lamm. It was Zaharias' second homer of the tourney. Rogers' second single of the game kept the rally going. Eyre's single to left was compounded by an error, putting runners on at second and third. Sal Meehan singled through the box for a run. Norris drove in the final run on a fielder's choice grounder, plating Eyre.
Pitching well for PA American was starter Sam Papp, who displayed a variety of breaking pitches, keeping Alpine off-balance.
"Getting the two runs in the first inning was important," Tito Bianchi said. "That's a good team. They had a lot of momentum coming into the game. They had energy. That pitcher was crafty. The double by Norris was huge."
Filter, son of Stanford pitching coach Rusty Filter, showed off a strong arm behind the plate, whipping the ball every which way in an attempt to pick off base runners.
Zaharias should get the ball on Saturday with Lamm, who exhibited a wicked curveball against PA American, available to go, if needed.
"Lamm was money," Norris said.