Mikey McGrath had just given up a game-tying three-run homer in the top of the sixth inning and he looked mad at himself. Menlo-Atherton shortstop Shawn Pagee came over, put a hand on his teammate's shoulder and gave him some encouraging words.
"All of a sudden he was popping the ball in low for strikes," M-A manager Jason Gray said afterward.
McGrath retired the final six hitters he faced, striking out the side in the seventh, to keep the game squared and give Ryan Kelly the chance to unload a booming, walk-off home run in Menlo-Atherton's 7-6 victory over Pacifica American Monday at Marina Field in Belmont.
Menlo-Atherton's 10-11-year-old all-star team finds itself in the championship game of the District 52 tournament against Hillsborough at 10 a.m. Tuesday. A challenge game, if necessary, would be on Wednesday (Hillsborough is undefeated).
M-A's unlikely run to the title game -- the team just won its third straight by two runs or less -- can be attributed, said Gray, to "the kids' resiliency. They're learned how to play positive in tough situations."
McGrath, the winning pitcher, was just one example of that. Kelly, playing third, froze a runner at third before making an out at first in the sixth that also proved vital.
Oliver Kwan showed a lot of poise as Pacifica was threatening to break the game open in the third. Already ahead 3-0 and with the bases loaded, Pacifica's Steven Dalton drilled a ball toward right field that had extra bases written all over it.
Kwan erased the threat with a terrific grab of the liner and then, having the awareness, threw a bullet to first baseman Harrison Long to double up a runner.
"When he snagged that ball, that was a game-changer," Gray said.
Pacifica scored twice before M-A even had a chance to bat. They also had seven hits and three runs before Menlo-Atherton got its first hit.
McGrath's one-out single in the third led to M-A's first run, driven in by Calem Filipek.
After Long was hit by a pitch with two outs in the fourth, catcher Andre Winslow tied the game with a two-run shot.
Menlo-Atherton scored three times in the fifth to grab a 6-3 lead. Rowan Kelly walked, Filipel singled and with two outs, Ryan Kelly walked. Pagee fell behind in the count before poking a single into center field that put M-A ahead. Long and Winslow also drove in runs.
McGrath entered the game after two Pacifica batters walked. He gave up the home run and two singles before becoming unhittable and setting the stage for Ryan Kelly.
"He's been really struggling this tournament," Gray said of Kelly. "That was by far his biggest hit in terms of meeting the ball with the barrel of the bat."
Menlo-Atherton lost its first game of the tournament and needed to win six straight to get where it is now. The team will play its fifth consecutive day Tuesday. Hillsborough has played twice in the last eight days.
It doesn't bother Menlo-Atherton in the least.
"We've got a lot of arms," Gray said. "Every kid we have can throw strikes. It's been the difference for us this week."
M-A's 9-10-year-old all-star didn't have nearly the same success last year. That team is this year's 10-11 tournament darlings. Even the enthusiasm of the M-A fans haven't gone unnoticed.
Pacifica American's 9-10-year-olds won the district tournament and went on to win the section title last year.