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May 26, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Palo Alto's Palo Alto's (May 26, 2004)upset rocks the playoffs

Vikings advance to Division I semifinals after eliminating St. Francis with shocking 4-3 win

by Keith Peters

It rumbled through the South Bay during the weekend, but no windows were broken. It shook the very foundation of high school baseball, yet no physical damage was done.

The San Andreas and Calaveras faults didn't budge, but Palo Alto High's baseball team nonetheless produced an earth-shaking that rattled the Central Coast Section baseball playoffs like never before.

Had the Richter scales been able to register Palo Alto's stunning 4-3 upset of St. Francis in the CCS Division I quarterfinals Saturday at PAL Stadium in San Jose, well, the U.S. Geological Survey might need new equipment today.

"A 10?" said Paly coach Pete Colombo. "It's beyond that."

Added Paly senior Max Pinto: "This is off the Richter Scale. This is a game that not only changes the dynamic of this team, but how other teams perceive us."

How true. The sixth-seeded Vikings (20-9) now have to be a team to be reckoned with, heading into the CCS Division I semifinals against No. 7 Bellarmine (24-12) on Wednesday (4 p.m.) at San Jose Municipal Stadium. The Bells advanced with an equally shocking 6-5 upending of No. 2 Serra, a game that followed Paly's ousting of No. 3 St. Francis.

The Lancers (29-3) and Padres (22-9) shared the West Catholic Athletic League title this season and long have been the measuring sticks for baseball in this area. If you could beat either of these teams, then you were considered among the very best.

Palo Alto is now in that category.

"Any time you beat a team the caliber of St. Francis, it is something special," Colombo said.

It was even more special because the Lancers were ranked No. 1 in the state for much of the season and No. 1 in the nation by Thus, talk swirled after that game that it was the biggest upset in Palo Alto baseball history, perhaps the biggest upset in CCS history and likely the second-most important triumph in Paly athletics to the school's 1993 state basketball championship.

St. Francis coach Chris Bradford gave Colombo the ultimate compliment afterward.

"He just said you outplayed us in every fashion," Colombo said.

Colombo tossed out words like "Rocky" plus David and Goliath, but never believed his team's task was against impossible odds.

"I said we were capable of doing this," he said. "We earned this."

The work actually began last December when the entire team showed up for voluntary workouts five days at week at 6:30 a.m. The players ran, did pushups and situps on cold winter mornings. Call it team bonding or working together for a common goal, which now has been realized.

"Everyone (on the team) knew we could do this," Pinto said. "It was never a question that we had the team to do it. It was never out of the question. Baseball is a game of confidence. We went in knowing we had a shot and the ability to beat Leigh and St. Francis."

Paly junior catcher Nathan Ford got the Vikings headed in that direction with a solo homer in the top of the fourth off Stanford-bound Rex Petrill (9-1). Following one of two doubles by senior Shane Parsons, Pinto ripped into a pitch and deposited it over the fence for a 3-0 lead.

St. Francis scratched out a run in the bottom of the fourth and Paly countered in the fifth when senior Russ Hagemann doubled and moved to third on a sacrfice bunt by senior Ryan Greenfield. Ford then lofted a sacrifice fly for a 4-1 lead.

The Lancers' Matt Long hit a two-run homer off Paly starter Jeremy Gillan (7-2) in the bottom of the fifth, but Colombo brought in David Stringer and he slammed the door on St. Francis.

Gillan did his job by keeping the Lancers off balance all day, mixing his curves and off-speed pitches with well-timed fastballs. Gillan actually had a no-hitter through four innings.

"Jeremy Gillan is not a Division I college prospect," Pinto said, "but he pitched like one."

Stringer, the winning pitcher in Paly's CCS opener, brought a different look with his hard fastball and curve. The two seniors combined to limit St. Francis to just four hits.

The Lancers put runners on the bases in the final two innings, but Stringer got a strikeout to end the sixth and then a double play to end the game.

Bedlam immediately broke out as Ford led a dogpile on Stringer while the entire team celebrated like never before. Colombo just couldn't believe it as he stood by with tears in his eyes.

"We could not have written a more perfect ending," Pinto said.

Actually, it's not over yet. There's still Bellarmine to contend with and, perhaps, a berth in the CCS finals on Saturday opposite either No. 1 Wilcox or No. 4 Leland.

Imagine that - three public schools and only one private school remaining in the CCS Division I playoffs. How earth-shaking is that?

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