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May 21, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, May 21, 2004

Pinto Pinto (May 21, 2004)pins down a victory

His HR, Stringer's pitching propel Paly into quarterfinals

by Keith Peters

Max Pinto probably felt right at home when he stepped to the plate in the fourth inning of Palo Alto's Central Coast Section Division I baseball playoff opener Wednesday.

The Vikings trailed by two runs and needed a big move, something Pinto is accustom to providing.

During the winter, Pinto wrestles. The senior is used to turning things around by grabbing an opponent and pinning him to the mat. The only difference Wednesday was that Pinto was wearing a baseball uniform and holding a bat. But, the result was the same.

With one swing, Pinto changed the complexion of the game and Palo Alto's season. He ripped into a 2-0 offering and bounced it off the top of the chain-link fence in right field for a three-run home that sparked the No. 6-seeded Vikings to a 5-2 victory over No. 11 Leigh.

"Sometimes we struggle to get started," said Pinto, whose one-out blast followed leadoff back-to-back walks to Nathan Ford and Shane Parsons. "We need some kind of ignition to get us going."

Pinto did just that, erasing a 2-0 deficit and giving his team a 3-2 advantage. The Vikings scored twice more in the fifth to make a winner out of senior David Stringer (8-5), who tossed a complete game with eight strikeouts and just one walk.

John Ginanni scored on a wild pitch and Russ Hagemann scored on Adam Dexter's single to highlight the Vikings' two-run fifth.

The triumph moves Palo Alto (19-9) into Saturday's quarterfinal showdown with No. 3-seeded St. Francis (29-2), which opened with an 11-1 victory over Santa Teresa in five innings. The Lancers won the West Catholic Athletic League regular-season title this season and was ranked among the top five nationally at one point.

Saturday's game is at San Jose's PAL Stadium at 10 a.m. The winner will face either No. 7 Bellarmine (23-12) or No. 2 Serra (22-8) on Wednesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium. The Division I title game will be Saturday, May 29 at San Jose Muni.

This is Palo Alto's third straight trip to the CCS quarterfinals. The Vikings are seeking their third straight 20-win season in their third consecutive appearance in the section tournament.

Conventional thinking says Palo Alto has no chance against the highly touted Lancers. Palo Alto coach Pete Colombo, however, believes otherwise. Colombo played baseball at Serra and remembers the battles his team had with Bellarmine and St. Francis.

"There's this whole mystique," Colombo said of the WCAL, which has seven of its eight teams in the CCS playoffs. "But, as I tell my guys, they put their pants on the same way, one leg at a time."

It also must be noted that in the Lancers' second loss, 14-13 to Bellarmine, St. Francis took a three-run lead into the seventh before blowing it. More importantly, the Lancers have lost starting shortstop Kyle Spraker for the rest of the season. The Cal-bound Spraker was hit in the face with a pitch last week against Serra and suffered a broken nose and cheekbone.

Colombo, however, knows his team must be at its best.

"We can't have any breakdowns," Colombo said, "because they'll take advantage of that."

Added Pinto: "In order to beat a team like that, we're going to have to play our best."

Pinto, however, said Paly won't be intimidated. Most of the players on both teams know each other from Babe Ruth days.

"We're a team that could upset a team like St. Francis," he said. "We're fortunate to get a chance to showcase ourselves in front of the best."

Palo Alto will have to be even better than it was against Leigh. The Vikings had only four hits and did commit two errors, still a far cry from the 11 errors committed the previous week in the final two games of the SCVAL De Anza Division season.

Paly also won't have Stringer on the mound. The senior right-hander has kept the Vikings in a lot of games this season and was at his solid best against Leigh. Despite being touched for two runs in the first two innings, Stringer retired 10 straight batters from the third through sixth innings. That streak ended on a two-out single, which was followed by a bad-hop single over the head of shortstop Russ Hagemann.

With runners at first and third, however, Stringer ended the threat by inducing a weak comebacker to the mound.

"This game was David Stringer's career in a nutshell," Colombo said. "Get him the lead, and he takes over the game. That's the sign of a good pitcher."

"As soon as Max gave us the lead, I knew the rest was going to be up to me," Stringer said. "I wasn't worried when they took the early lead. I was confident my teammates would get the runs I would need."

The Vikings now must find a way to put up some runs against St. Francis. While Stringer said he'd love to be on the mound Saturday, that job likely will go to senior Jeremy Gillan. Pinto also is available for relief duty. Just give him the chance to pin down another opponent. That's all he wants.

The CCS Division III tournament begins today with No. 6-seeded Menlo (21-5) taking on No. 3 Pacific Grove (22-11) at Santa Clara University's Buck Shaw Stadium at 4 p.m. Following that game will be No. 2 Sacred Heart Prep (19-5) against No. 7 King's Academy (18-8) at 7 p.m. The winners will meet Tuesday in one semifinal at San Jose Muni.

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