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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - June 3, 2011

Section titles are linked

Palo Alto and Menlo featured players who played in World Series

by Keith Peters

For those who know their local baseball history, it should come as no surprise that the Palo Alto and Menlo School each won Central Coast Section championships on Saturday. After all, they were years in the making.

It was three summers ago the Palo Alto Babe Ruth 14-year-old all-stars won the Pacific Southwest Regional for the first time ever and advanced for the first time to the World Series, held that year in Quincy, Mass.

Playing on that Babe Ruth all-star were eight players (it would have been nine had Ozzy Braff not been injured) who competed for Palo Alto and Menlo last weekend at San Jose Municipal Stadium, where the No. 3-seeded Vikings (28-9) won the CCS Division I title with a 5-4 victory over No. 5 San Benito and the No. 3-seeded Knights (26-5) captured the Division III crown with a 4-0 triumph over No. 8 Santa Cruz.

The Babe Ruth grads playing for Paly, which captured its first-ever CCS title, were B.J. Boyd, Drake Swezey, Kevin Kannappan, Graham Marchant, John Dickerson and Jacob Lauing while Freddy Avis and Jake Batchelder played for Menlo, which won its fifth section title.

Many of those players began their journey, which led them to San Jose last weekend, as 9-10 Little League all-stars. They enjoyed historic success at that level.

"Amazing accomplishment by all of these players," said Mike Piha, who was the president of Palo Alto Babe Ruth in 2008. "A talented group of players from Little League all the way through high school. I always thought this group of players had something special, and really expected most of them to have successful high school baseball careers."

Other members of the Babe Ruth 14s who didn't attend Paly or Menlo included Travis McHugh (Bellarmine football), Matt Eastman (Sequoia baseball), Jordan Piha (St. Francis baseball), Tucker Jorgenson (St. Francis soccer), Cam Winn (Menlo-Atherton baseball) and Sam Falkenhagen (Menlo-Atherton baseball).

"This group of players was just a bunch of winners at all levels, I guess," said Paly coach Erick Raich, who along with Menlo coach Craig Schoof didn't know this history that they inherited. "Pretty cool that all of those players played together at such a high level but, then again, that's probably why they know how to win."

Palo Alto and Menlo both reached CCS finals last season, as well, but not with the same group of players who helped bring home titles last weekend.

Once informed of their previous successes, Schoof wasn't surprised to see it pay off Saturday.

"Yes, there is a very obvious correlation," Schoof said. "One, of course, the talent of all those players. Two, winning is a habit and these kids just expected to win every time they take the field. When you expect to win, you find ways to win."

Palo Alto and Menlo did just that in tough semifinals, where the Vikings eliminated No. 2 Mitty, 5-2, and the Knights ousted No. 2 Carmel, 9-8, in nine innings.

That set the stage for the championship games, where Paly and Menlo were the favorites — at least on paper. Neither game, however, was a breeze for either champ as unseasonable wind and rain marred the contests.

Palo Alto had to withstand a nearly two-hour rain delay followed by a 2 1/2-hour game before adding to what has been an historic year in athletics for the school.

During a season that saw Palo Alto win first-ever state championships in football and girls' volleyball, win the first SCVAL De Anza Division meet wrestling title in 25 years, capture the first De Anza Division and CCS Division I crown in girls' basketball and record a national record in girls' swimming, Paly baseball added to that list.

With the score tied at 4 heading into the bottom of the seventh, Paly's speedy B.J. Boyd led off with a grounder that was thrown into the Paly dugout along the first base line with Boyd advancing to second. Up stepped fellow junior Ozzy Braff, who lofted a fly ball into short right-center field.

A lackadaisical effort by the San Benito centerfielder in retrieving the ball allowed Boyd to race around third and score the winning run as Paly pulled out its historic victory.

For the Vikings (28-9), not only was it the first CCS title in program history in the 44th year of CCS baseball but it was also the fifth section crown in Palo Alto baseball history. The Vikings, who have been playing the sport for at least 112 years, previously won North Coast Section titles in 1899, 1908, 1913 and 1927. Paly also won a state title in 1899.

The latest section crown came courtesy of Boyd, who said he never doubted that he would score, nor did he even look at Raich (who was waving him home) as he rounded third. It was all or nothing at that point.

For Boyd and other football players on the baseball squad, it was their second CCS title of the season. The Vikings won the Open Division crown in football this past fall. The four CCS team titles in 2010-11 are the most ever by Paly in a single season.

"What an unbelievable season for these players, especially the one who played both football and baseball," Raich said. "The players deserve all of the credit and I couldn't be happier for them."

For Boyd and Braff, it was a nice turnaround. Both were at St. Francis last season. The Lancers were top-seeded in Division I this year but suffered a first-round upset at the hands of No. 16 Carlmont.

Boyd and Braff, meanwhile, thrived in the Paly system and enjoyed playing with their friends from their Little League and Babe Ruth days.

"B.J. and Ozzy were definite game-changers," Mike Piha said.

Added Raich: "Heck yeah I'm glad Ozzy and B.J. came back to Palo Alto. We aren't where we're at this year without them."

Raich, who said afterward that the game "will stick with me forever," now has guided the Vikings to a 57-13 record in his two seasons as head coach and back-to-back CCS title-game appearances. The Vikings took a No. 1 seed into last season's Division II final, but suffered a 7-4 upset at the hands of Burlingame. Paly also lost in the finals in 2004 and 1991.

Palo Alto more than made up for that on Saturday night as seniors George Brown, T.J. Braff, Jeff Cohen, Cory Tenanes, Sam Maliska, Christoph Bono, Jake Payne, Will Glazier, Swezey, and Marchant walked off the soggy, muddy field as winners.

Earlier in the day, Menlo didn't have to worry about the weather — just No. 8 seed Santa Cruz.

The Cardinals put up a fight, but couldn't touch Menlo's one-two pitching punch of Avis and senior Jake Bruml, who held true to the team's season-long motto that "Individuals win games, teams win titles."

Avis and Bruml teamed to limit Santa Cruz to just four hits. Avis pitched the first 5 2/3 innings before reaching the 10-inning limit for the week. Bruml took over for the final 1 1/3, creating a little excitement in the top of the seventh when the Cardinals loaded the bases and had the tying run at the plate. Bruml got the final batter on a grounder to third baseman Robert Wickers, who tagged the runner heading to third and setting off a wild celebration by the Knights.

"He's a stud," Wickers said of Avis. "There's a reason why we voted him our team MVP. He's been doing that all year. Jake came in and shut them down. That's a pretty good 1-2 punch. They both came through in the clutch."

Avis and Bruml combined to win 20 of 23 decisions and record four saves this season. They also each drove in an insurance run in the sixth inning on Saturday. Avis reached base in all four at-bats, walking three times before delivering an RBI single. Bruml was 1-of-2 with an RBI, a walk and a hit-by-pitch.

Batchelder and freshman Mikey Diekroeger also drove in runs for the Knights, who scored 82 runs while finishing the season on an eight-game winning streak.

"Those guys made the plays behind me," Avis said. "I'm not going to strike out a lot of people and those guys make me feel confident to make pitches."

Menlo won its second straight CCS title and its fifth overall. The Knights went back-to-back for the first time since 1988-89, also under Schoof. They also won in 2004, when current pitching coach Chuck Huggins played for Menlo.

"There are some of the same guys from last year and we had high expectations," Wickers said. "I think we had a great mentality toward the season."

Wickers, Benton, Bruml and fellow seniors Philip Anderson, Kamyaar Butt, Sam Fancher and Jack Suiter will leave some holes, but the return of Avis, Diekroeger, Batchelder, Marcus and Dylan Mayer certainly give the Knights a solid foundation as they set about the pursuit of a three-peat next season.


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