"I don't think there are two more pressure-packed games than these two," said Menlo coach Craig Schoof, who was talking about all the rivalries in all the local leagues.
It is perhaps appropriate, then, that Menlo (6-1, 17-6) and Sacred Heart Prep (6-1, 12-11-1) are destined to share the WBAL title this season.
Menlo has three league games remaining against teams it already has beaten by a combined score of 45-7. Sacred Heart Prep has three left against squads it has drubbed by a combined 31-5. So, barring a major upset to either team, the Knights and Gators are co-champs and headed for the Central Coast Section playoffs.
Both were ticketed for the postseason from Day 1, of course. The only real drama in the WBAL this season was which team would win the title. After losing the first meeting to SHP on a two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh, Menlo absolutely needed to win Wednesday's rematch.
The Knights did just that, even though the outcome was in doubt for a while.
Through four innings, host Menlo had two hits and three runs. Schoof knew that probably wasn't going to be enough if his team was going to earn a share of the top spot.
"All year you watch them and they (the Gators) never give up," Schoof said. "They're a tough team, a good team. I've been telling my players that."
When Sacred Heart Prep's Cal Baloff blasted a grand slam in the top of the fifth inning for his first career homer at any level, Schoof's fears were realized. While the blast gave Sacred Heart Prep the lead at 4-3, it also provided something for Menlo.
"When we fell behind," Schoof said, "that kind of woke us up."
The Knights awoke with a vengeance. In the bottom of the fifth, Menlo sent 13 batters to the plate. The Knights rapped out eight hits and produced nine runs. After Phil Anderson led off with a walk and Danny Diekroeger singled, Jake Bruml lined a three-run homer over the left field fence and Menlo had the lead back at 6-4. Back-to-back hits by Dylan Mayer (he's 16 for 25 and hitting .640 in league) and Clay Robbins (a triple) produced the eventual winning run at 7-4.
Robert Wickers and Jackson Badger both singled and Anderson came up for the second time in the inning and walked again. That set the stage for Diekroeger, a senior who is headed for Stanford next season to join his brother, Kenny, in the Cardinal infield. Danny stepped into a high fastball and deposited it over the left field fence for a grand slam and a 12-4 lead.
The Gators scored two more runs in the top of the seventh, thanks to a throwing error and an RBI single by Spencer Myers. There would be no winning homer this time for SHP, not like in the team's previous meeting when Bryan Kohrs slammed a two-run, walk-off homer to beat the Knights.
"The one thing we didn't do the last time we played them was finish it off," said Diekroeger, who made sure the Gators wouldn't battle back this time.
"Finding a way to win and close out games has been a battle," said Schoof.
Jake Batchelder, just a sophomore, picked up his seventh win of the season with no losses with five innings of work. He did, however, have his string of 26 1/3 innings of shutout baseball ended. Bruml came on in relief for the final two innings and allowed both seventh-inning unearned runs.
Sacred Heart Prep had enough scoring chances, but just couldn't produce. The Gators got the leadoff hitter on in the second, but Diekroeger started a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat. In the third, the Gators got a leadoff double from Tomas O'Donnell and an infield single by Ian Lynch, but Diekroeger again started another 6-4-3 double play to end the inning. SHP loaded the bases in the fourth with two out, but failed to score.
In another game with first-place hanging in the balance, Carlmont junior lefthander Daniel Madigan threw a complete-game shutout as the visiting Scots defeated Menlo-Atherton, 7-0, on Wednesday afternoon in a PAL Bay Division showdown.
Madigan scattered seven hits, struck out seven, and walked just one in helping Carlmont (7-4, 12-10) to reduce M-A's lead to one game with three league games remaining. The Bears are now 8-3 in league play and 14-9 overall.
M-A threatened in the bottom of the first inning when Casey Eason led off with a single and Jeff Keller walked. Madigan then proceeded to escape the inning with two strikeouts and an infield popup. After that, the Bears struggled to string together base hits against Madigan's accurate fastball and effective off-speed deliveries. Jeff Keller and Wally Hansen led M-A's offense with two singles apiece.
Carlmont took a 1-0 lead in the second inning on a solo homer by catcher Colton Hicks off M-A starting pitcher Patrick Moriarty. The Scots extended their lead to 3-0 in the fourth on three singles and a sacrifice fly to center. Carlmont tallied one more run in the fourth, aided by a misplayed fly ball to the outfield. In taking the loss, Moriarty (3-3) surrendered four runs on seven hits over 4 1/3 innings, striking out two and walking none.
Junior Myles Brewer relieved Moriarty in the fifth, striking out two Scots to keep Carlmont's lead at 4-0. Carlmont used a leadoff double, a wild pitch, and a suicide squeeze bunt in the sixth to take a 5-0 lead, and then scored two more runs in the seventh on an M-A error and a two-run homer by Christian Conte. Brewer struck out three and walked two over 2 2/3 innings of relief.
Menlo-Atherton returns to action on Friday afternoon at Carlmont to conclude the series. The Bears will take on Half Moon Bay the following week to close the regular season.
In the SCVAL De Anza Division Tournament, Palo Alto kept its winning streak alive and one of the best seasons in school history ongoing with a 3-0 victory over visiting Homestead in the opening round on Tuesday.
The Vikings improved to 23-3 and stretched their winning streak to 18 games with the triumph while the Mustangs fell to 13-11. The teams met again Thursday at Homestead, with a Paly triumph putting the team into the tourney finals next week against the Los Gatos-Wilcox winner. The Chargers won their opener over the Wildcats on Tuesday, 10-3.
Palo Alto swept both Wilcox and Los Gatos during the regular season while compiling a 14-0 record and winning its first De Anza Division title since 1994. Homestead also was swept as the Vikings outscored the Mustangs, 27-10, in the two games.
Tuesday's game was the closest of the three with Homestead, but Paly was in control from the outset after grabbing a 2-0 lead in the first. That was enough for junior starter Drake Swezey, who tossed a complete-game four-hitter while striking out eight. He walked only one.
Swezey received offensive support from senior Joc Pederson, who slammed a solo homer and added a double. Wade Hauser and Will Glazier also contributed two hits and an RBI each.
If Paly lost on Thursday, a third game with Homestead will be played Friday at Palo Alto (3:30 p.m.). If the Vikings advance as expected, they'll host the Wilcox-Los Gatos winner on Tuesday in another best-of-three series. Paly already has locked up a berth into the Central Coast Section playoffs by winning the regular-season title.
While Palo Alto's postseason is assured, Gunn is taking steps to continue its season into the playoffs after holding off host Mountain View on Tuesday, 4-2, in an SCVAL El Camino Division game.
The victory moved the Titans (8-4, 11-11-2) into a three-way tie for first place with Mountain View and Milpitas. Gunn had a chance to make that a two-way tie by beating the Spartans on Thursday (3:30 p.m.). The Titans can control their destiny by beating Milpitas next week to close the regular season.
In a game where both teams left a lot of runners (22 combined) on base and had trouble coming up with the big hit, a couple of key defensive plays made the difference Tuesday.
In the first inning, Gunn kept the damage to a minimum allowing only one run after giving up two walks, a hit batter and two errors. Mountain View scored again in the second inning when Taylor Moran singled, stole second and scored on a single by Chuck Evans, giving the Spartans a 2-0 lead.
Gunn got on the board in the third when Jon Rea doubled and later scored on a single by Jake Verhulp. In the bottom of the third, right fielder Matt Mertz made a diving catch to get the Titans out of a jam.
Gunn used that momentum to score twice in the fourth. Tyler Harney singled and both he and Jon Zeglin were safe on Zeglin's bunt. Jack Hannan laid down a perfect squeeze bunt to score Harney. Zeglin later scored on a passed ball for a 3-2 lead.
Mountain View got runners on base in the bottom of the fourth, but Gunn catcher Travis Bowers threw out a runner attempting to steal to help end the threat.
Gunn added an insurance run in the fifth inning when Connor Radlo did some heads-up base running and was able to score on a sacrifice fly by Mertz.
The bottom of the fifth saw Mountain View threaten once again after Randy Higarata and Mathew Kang had back-to-back singles, but Gunn pitcher Blake Johnson induced a ground ball fielder's choice and two strikeouts to end the rally. In the sixth, Gunn got two quick outs before Mountain View loaded the bases after two hits and a hit batter. The Titans, however, got out of the jam when Bowers picked off the runner at third.
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