by Keith Peters
Everything seems to be falling into place for the Palo Alto Babe Ruth 14-year-old all-star team as it prepares to open play Saturday in the NorCal State tournament in Sonoma. The team's batting is coming around, as evident of its 10-5 victory over Mountain View last Friday in the challenge game of the District 6 tournament. Palo Alto blasted 11 hits, including a three-run homer by Anthony Rea during a six-run fourth inning that put the game away.
"The batting really came around," said Ed Rea, Palo Alto's manager.
Rea also likes how his pitching staff is shaping up, following a combined two-hitter by Elliot Baer and Tony Torres in the win over Mountain View.
"The pitching, I was really pleased with," Rea added.
So, with the district title in hand and the NorCal State Tournament next up, are there any improvements that need to be made?
"Well," Rea said, "we need a little work on our baserunning."
That was the only area where Palo Alto showed a lack of aggressiveness last week during its run through the district event at Mountain View's McKelvey Park. Palo Alto didn't steal that many bases, nor did baserunners jump at the chance when opposing catchers dropped pitches or had them bounce away in the dirt.
Other than that, Palo Alto appears in great shape heading into the eight-team NorCal event at Arnold Park in Sonoma. Palo Alto will open at 1 p.m. against District 7. A victory in the double-elimination tourney will move Palo Alto into a 4 p.m. game Sunday, while a first-round loss means a 9 a.m. game the next day.
The championship game is scheduled for July 25. A challenge game, if needed, will follow immediately.
Palo Alto will have one roster change for this tourney. Jeff Zweig, who had two hits in the win over Mountain View, leaves Friday for Europe. He'll spend a month abroad, mostly in France at a soccer camp. His replacement will be David Henry.
Rea knows Henry well. It was Henry's three-run double during the final week of the regular season that knocked Rea's team out of the city tournament. Rea hopes Henry will bring that kind of hitting to the NorCal tourney, making Palo Alto all the more dangerous.
"This team has more depth than any tournament team I have ever coached," said Rea. "I have confidence in all 15 of these players. I can put anybody in at any time of the game and they can all do the job."
Actually, Rea was leery of Torres' hitting--until his reliever stepped up in the seventh inning against Mountain View. Palo Alto's lead, which at one time was 8-0, was down to 8-5. Before Torres came to the plate, however, Zweig singled and Anthony Rea walked.
With runners at second and third following a passed ball, Torres stepped in and promptly singled in two runs for a 10-5 bulge. Even more impressive than that was Torres' relief pitching.
He came on in the fourth, when Baer had control problems. After giving up a bases-loaded RBI single to Bryan Walker, Torres retired 11 of the final 14 batters he faced over the final 3 2/3 innings. He allowed just the one hit.
"I was kind of impressed," Ed Rea said of his standout reliever, who pitched for Rea during the regular season. "Tony's an excellent change of pace. He has a very lively ball. I catch him in batting practice and he can't throw anything straight."
Torres combined a lively fastball and curve to baffle Mountain View. He'll be counted on to do the same beginning this weekend, adding depth to a pitching staff that includes Baer, Rea, Rhys Jones, Kyle Jaros and Nick Tanaka.
In other words, Palo Alto's pitch for a NorCal title will be a good one.
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