Palo Alto has been good enough to earn the No. 1 overall seed in the Central Coast Section baseball Open Division in each of the past two years. The Vikings had the misfortune to run into quality West Catholic Athletic League teams both years too.
There was no way Palo Alto was ready to end its season Wednesday but someone forgot to tell Mitty starter Aidan Goicovich, who tossed a four-hitter in the Monarchs 1-0 victory over the host Vikings.
"We ran into a buzzsaw," Palo Alto coach Pete Fukahara said. "he threw multiple pitches for strikes. There's no doubt we were battling. We just fell short. We couldn't get anything going against him."
It was one of those games where a couple of hard-hit balls were turned into outs and Mitty got the luck of a blooper that found open space.
Giocovich did his job, throwing strikes and making Palo Alto (25-7) work for everything it got. He finished with five strikeouts and one walk and retired the first hitter in each of the first six innings.
Vikings starter Ryan Chang had to work a little bit harder but he was no less effective. He allowed an unearned run on five hits while getting into and out of trouble all day. He had runners on base in all but one inning.
Chang stranded nine runners on base, six in scoring position. Palo Alto had a total of five baserunners.
Mitty's lone run was the result of a couple of walks, a bloop hit, a slight bobble and a hurried throw. In a game of inches, an inch was all it took.
"It's not the result we wanted but when your playing in the Central Coast Section playoffs, you're facing the toughest competition," Chang said. "I'm so thankful for this year. These guys are my brothers and they have more heart than I can say. This is a special group. We're all devastated because we wanted to keep playing with each other."
The game never lacked for drama. Hyunwoo Roh stretched as far as he could to make a diving catch in right-center to deny Mitty in the fifth and Angus Stayte somehow got to a ball deep in left-center, making the catch inches from the wall in the sixth, robbing the Monarchs of two runs.
Third baseman Niko Lillios, earlier in the same inning, ranged far to his right to keep a sharp grounder in the infield and, when he had every right to hang onto the ball, fired a strike to get the out at first and keep a Mitty runner rooted to second base.
The Vikings had a couple of scoring opportunities. With one out in the third, Roh rocketed a one-hopper into right field. He dashed toward first but hit the ball so hard was thrown out. Max Jung-Goldberg followed with a double off the base of the left field fence.
Ben Cleasby walked and Stayte singled with one out in the fourth and both runners moved up a base on Nathan Willis groundout. The inning ended with a strikeout.
Stayte brought the crowd to life with a bouncer into left field to start the seventh. Willis sacrificed him to second. With two outs, Josh Kasevich put a pretty good swing on a ball and lined it into right. It stayed up, though, and Mitty slipped the win in its pocket and scurried off the field.
"I'm as proud of these guys as I can be," Fukuhara said. "They carried themselves like champions. This is a special group of guys."
Palo Alto loses a couple of outfielders, a shortstop and a couple pitchers to graduation. The Vikings return a solid corp "and we have guys ready to step up," Fukuhara said.
"I believe in next year's team," said Chang, who will be playing at Grinnell College in Iowa, a distinguished academic school with a successful baseball program. He'll be joining Menlo School grad Carson Gampell and Gunn grad Ravi Levens.
Calling Mitty a 16 seed is a bit of a misnomer. The Monarchs (16-12) own seven wins over teams that qualified for the CCS and are 9-10 in games decided by three runs or less.
Palo Alto has lost its first round game in each of the past three CCS tournaments, the last two as the No. 1 seed and then as the No. 13 seed in 2015. The Vikings have been outscored 7-0 in those contests.
Menlo 10, El Camino 0
Griff McGarry collected three hits and drove in a pair as Menlo scored twice in the third and fourth innings to snap a tie en route to the victory over the Colts, PAL Lake Division champions, in the first round of the CCS Division II playoffs Wednesday.
The PAL Ocean Division champion Knights (16-10) get a rematch with Ocean second-place team Half Moon Bay at 2 p.m. Saturday at Sacred Heart Prep in the quarterfinal round.
Chandler Yu earned the victory, allowing six hits in five innings. Sophomore Justin Nam pitched the final two innings.
Catcher Ben Somorjai, headed to Haverford in the fall, had two hits and drove in three runs. He has driven in 11 runs over the past four games.
Pinewood, making its first appearance in the CCS, lost to top-seeded Sacred Heart Cathedral, 13-0, in another Division II game.