"It's just the way things have gone," said Palo Alto manager Tony Brewer, in his 15th season with the program. "There's just no way to compare it. This is the strangest season I've ever been involved with."
First of all there's Palo Alto's gaudy record of 21-1 in league (23-2 overall) following Sunday's 12-6 and 12-10 doubleheader sweep of the San Mateo Orioles at Baylands Athletic Center.
With one regular-season game remaining, Palo Alto has the league title wrapped up and the top seed secured for the upcoming Area 2 Tournament (beginning July 24) at Washington Park in Burlingame.
Despite Sunday's obvious offensive production, one had to be on hand to truly understand what this season has been about.
First off, the injuries and departures. Pitcher Brent Gardiner didn't return to start the season. Pitcher Jon Koepfgen later was lost to arm surgery. Pitcher Kevin Dexter was lost to a broken hand. And pitcher Alex Schmarzo just discovered he'll have to undergo arm surgery, as well. On Sunday, Derek Austin (who also can pitch) missed both games.
Palo Alto, then, was depleted but hardly demoralized. Despite trailing by six runs in the first game, Post 375 battled back to win. In the second game, Palo Alto took an 8-5 lead into the top of the seventh, gave up four runs, and then was forced into extra innings before finally pulling out the victory when Kyle Einfalt slammed a two-out, three-home homer in the bottom of the ninth.
"We never want to make it easy on ourselves," said Palo Alto assistant Colby Henard.
Added Brewer: "If we're going to do it, we'll do it the hard way."
Sunday's second game was the whole season rolled into one game.
"This is pretty much what we've been doing all season," Brewer explained. "It's been tough for the coaches but the kids love it."
One had to love the way Post 375 pulled it out in Game 2. To start, Palo Alto escaped bases-loaded situations in the first and second innings.
Palo Alto fell behind by 5-2 following a grand slam by San Mateo in the fourth. In the bottom of the frame, however, Post 375 loaded the bases with two out. Two batters reached base after both hit foul popups that were dropped. Dan Esquivel scored on a wild pitch and Nick Goodspeed brought home three more with a double. Suddenly, Palo Alto held a 6-5 lead.
San Mateo erased its deficit and took a 9-8 lead in the seventh and was threatening to score more, but Palo Alto got the second out on a hidden ball trick and then relief pitcher Matt Berry picked the runner off first to end the threat.
Palo Alto tied it in the ninth when Jordan Piha singled and came home when Kenny Pope beat out a double-play ball when the throw to first was wide.
The teams were scoreless in the eighth but San Mateo scored once on a solo homer, one batter after Pope made a diving catch in center to take away extra bases (and, as it turned out, an extra run).
Down 10-9 in the bottom of the ninth, Pope worked the count to 3-2 before walking with two out. Danny Stienstra did the same on a 3-2 pitch, setting the stage for Einfalt's dramatic three-run homer over the left-field fence.
That set off a wild celebration at home plate, which included having the San Mateo coach ejected after cursing the umpire for missing what appeared to be a check-swing third strike on Pope.
Brewer could only shake his head after witnessing yet another remarkable comeback.
"They scrap and they battle," Brewer said. "They don't make it pretty."
But, added Tucker Laurence, "That's the way we play. We fall behind early and then it takes awhile for us to get going."
That pretty much described Game 1, as Palo Alto trailed 6-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth before scoring single runs in the fifth and sixth. In the seventh, Post 375 rallied for six runs as Berry single, Stephen Burk single, Blaine Marchant had an RBI single, Evan Warner followed with another RBI single and Pope brought home a run when he was hit by a pitch.
Stienstra then doubled home two runs and Einfalt followed with an RBI double for an 8-6 lead. Einfalt finished with two hits and four RBI, giving him four hits and seven RBI for the day.
The Palo Alto 13-year-old all-stars won their first two games in the NorCal State Tournament in Alameda and were heavily favored to reach Thursday's championship game at the College of Alameda at 5 p.m.
Palo Alto crushed Alameda, 17-0, in the opening round as Sam Falkenhagen, Kyle Zirbes and Robert Wickers combined for a no-hitter. On Sunday, Palo Alto blisted Tri-Valley, 16-3, as Graham Marchant pitched a one-hitter over four innings and Freddy Avis finished the fifth without allowing a hit.
"We kind of took them (Tri-Valley) out of the game quickly," said Palo Alto coach Matt Atwater, whose team scored 10 runs in the second inning. "The kids were hitting the ball hard."
Tucker Jorgenson, BJ Boyd, Travis McHugh and Avis all had two hits Sunday.
Thus, Palo Alto went into Tuesday night's game against McKinleyville (Eureka) having outscored the competition 33-3 while allowing just one hit.
"I'm thinking we have a good shot," Atwater said of winning the title.
Atwater believes Tri-Valley likely resurface from the consolation bracket and will be Palo Alto's opponent in Thursday's finale. Should Palo Alto win, it will advance to the regional tournament starting July 28 in Richfield, Utah.
Should the Palo Alto 13s move on, it will be without standout shortstop Austin Braff, who will miss the rest of the season with reported stress fractures in his back. Braff discovered his medical condition last Thursday and missed both games in Alameda.
The Palo Alto 14-year-old all-stars, meanwhile, will open their NorCal State Tournament on Saturday in Woodland (near Sacramento). A title will earn Palo Alto a trip to a regional tourney in Murry, Utah, starting July 31.
Palo Alto advanced with a 10-0 victory over San Mateo in the challenge championship game of the District 6 tournament last Thursday night in Belmont. San Mateo had forced the extra game with a 5-4 win a night earlier.
Palo Alto had the edge on hits, took advantage of four errors and used aggressive base running to full effect behind starting pitcher Kyle Barnes. Also, it did not hurt that Palo Alto was facing an opponent that was playing its fifth game in six days.
San Mateo threatened to take the lead in the third by loading the bases with one out. A fly ball to left appeared to be enough to score the runner from third, but the runner left too early and had to return to the bag. Barnes then induced a groundout to end the threat.
Palo Alto scored all the runs it would need in the bottom of the third on run-scoring singles by Joe Xavier, T.J. Braff and Kevin Anderson produced a 3-0 lead. In the fifth, Palo Alto turned a 4-0 lead into a game-ending rally with six runs. Will Glazier and Jack Hannan both had run-scoring singles and Ryan Chilcoat connected on an RBI single. After two errors, Chilcoat eventually scored to make it 10-0.
Barnes pitched a complete-game six-hitter and received plenty of help from Anderson and Hannan, both of whom had two of their team's 11 hits.
The triumph for Palo Alto made up for last season when San Mateo battled through the consolation bracket and beat Palo Alto twice for the district title.
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