Palo Alto, which is hosting the event at Baylands Athletic Center, headed into last night's championship game needing two victories over undefeated Tri-Valley to advance to Arizona for the July 26-Aug. 2 regional.
The Palo Alto 15s suffered a tough 4-3 setback to Tri-Valley in Tuesday's winners' bracket in a game where the home team let a 3-0 first-inning lead get away. That loss dropped Palo Alto into the consolation bracket, from where it emerged with an 8-5 win over Ukiah on Wednesday night.
"The effort was fantastic," said Palo Alto head coach Rick Farr. "It's tough after you lose a heart-breaker (Tuesday). It was 4-1 (Ukiah) and we got that first run in the bottom of the first that was huge. Their pitcher was their ace and he threw a lot this week. If we could knock him out, we knew we'd have an opportunity to score some runs."
Rallying from a 4-1 deficit after one inning, Palo Alto pulled into a tie after two. With the score still 4-4 in the fourth, Palo Alto's Aron Ecoff smashed a triple to center field, just out of the reach of the fielder's glove, and Niko Lillios and Shane Wallace came around to score — giving Palo Alto a two-run lead.
"I thought that guy was going to run it down. It kind of seemed like it kept carrying and that was huge, it was the difference in the game," said Farr, whose team added another run in the fourth to make it a 7-4 game.
The first inning started off a little rough for Palo Alto's pitching and defense. Wallace loaded the bases and gave up a bases-clearing triple to center field by Miguel Contreras and it was a 4-0 Ukiah lead after the first half of the inning.
Lillios came in relief with one out in the first inning and shut down the next two batters. Lillios was huge for Palo Alto as he silenced Ukiah for five innings, giving up just one run on four hits.
"Niko was the guy tonight," said Farr. "He's been nursing an injury and hasn't really done anything for us in two weeks. Niko came in and gave us five innings, that was big."
In the second inning, Palo Alto rallied from a 4-1 Ukiah lead. Ole Erickson skied one to center field and John McGrory scored from third base and Palo Alto was on its way to a comeback.
Ecoff contributed to three RBI in the second and fourth innings, he had a solid game and went 2 for 4. Wallace, batting leadoff, went 4-for-4 with two stolen bases and two runs scored.
Ukiah was threatening to score in the sixth inning when it got runners to second and third with one out. Palo Alto's David Clarke came in relief for Lillios and struck out three out of the last five batters of the game.
"We were thinking we weren't going to use him, except for an inning, but we got into trouble and we figured to bring him in and he threw great," said Farr.
Palo Alto opened up its lead in the sixth inning when Clarke laid down the suicide squeeze and Jackson Hall scored from third base, giving Palo Alto the 8-5 advantage.
"We've got to get our offense going much sooner in the game," Wallace said of Thursday's matchup with Tri-Valley. "We need to get runs on the board and not let up on our defense. We need to be focused 100 percent."
Palo Alto was seeking a little revenge last night as Tri-Valley defeated the Palo Alto 14s in last year's NorCal State Tournament finale, 4-3, in Woodland. Palo Alto traveled back and forth during the event and logged some 1,400 miles. Farr also coached that team.
Palo Alto and Tri-Valley also met up last night in the 14-year-old NorCal State Tournament in Woodland. The matchup, however, was in the consolation finals after Palo Alto posted a 4-3 win over Novato and Tri-Valley suffered a 7-6 loss to Woodland on Wednesday at Clark Field.
Palo Alto was down to its last out in the top of the seventh, but scored twice to pull out the victory.
Palo Alto needed to eliminate Tri-Valley in order to reach Friday's championship game against Woodland at 5 p.m. The winner will advance to the Regional tournament next week in Riverton, Utah.
In Ukiah, the Palo Alto 13-year-old all-stars saw their season come to an end in an 11-1 loss to unbeaten Tri-Valley in the championship game on Tuesday night at Anton Stadium. Palo Alto, which dropped a 9-2 decision to Tri-Valley on Sunday, needed to win twice on Tuesday to advance to the Regional in Fresno next week.
Palo Alto battled all the way and kept Tri-Valley in check until the fourth, when the defending champs scored five times to take an 8-0 lead after two hits, a walk and a fielder's choice plated two runs in the third. Palo Alto's pitching showed some wear and tear as eight walks were issued. Palo Alto also committed four errors.
Palo Alto got its lone run in the fifth with Talia Grossman walked, moved to second on a fielder's choice and then third on another fielder's choice before scoring on an error. Palo Alto scatched out four hits, but needed to play error-free ball to have a chance to force a challenge game.
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