By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
It was a battle between the No. 1 and 2 teams in the Central Coast Section. It was a meeting of two coaches from the same club team. It was a confrontation between players who are teammates in the offseason.
All that added up to something special when Menlo School hosted Palo Alto on Wednesday in a nonleague showdown to decide the unofficial champion in girls' lacrosse this season.
With no CCS playoffs in lacrosse and both teams playing in separate leagues -- Menlo in the WBAL and Paly in the SCVAL -- this one-time meeting offered big-time bragging rights to the winner.
Not too surprisingly, deciding the winner was not easy. It took two halves, two overtime periods and then sudden death before Menlo senior Mila Sheeline scored to give the Knights a thrilling and exhausting 12-11 victory on Wednesday that stretched late into the day and finished in the rain.
"It was a battle royale," said Menlo coach Jen Lee. "And what is the best for me is that I 100 percent respected my opponent; how they played and how they are coached. I love some of those Paly girls because I have traveled with them in the summer, fall and winter -- some of them extensively over the last 2 1/2 years. It is so exciting to see them enjoy this great and strong start to their season."
Lee and Paly coach Jen Gray are both assistant coaches with the Wave under head coach Michele Uhlfelder, the former Stanford head coach. Eleven Paly players and 18 from Menlo played this past offseason with the team. About 60 percent of those 27 made the travel squad and played in national tournaments in Vail (Colorado), Maryland, Pennsylvania and Arizona as teammates and roommates.
Thus, Wednesday's match might have looked like an intrasquad scrimmage to those who follow the Wave. But, it was much more than that. Menlo is the long-established power on the Peninsula while Palo Alto, only in its third year, has arrived as a strong contender for eventual CCS surpremacy.
"Jen Gray and her 2010 varsity have achieved what I have yet to do -- post a regulation win versus the great St. Ignatius. In just three years, they have done this, which not a lot of other teams can usually say, especially programs that are this young. I fully respect that. I am 0-for-10 years (against SI)."
Palo Alto brought a 9-0 record into Wednesday's match while Menlo was just 5-3. The Knights, however, have played an extremely tough schedule and were ready for the showdown, as were the Vikings.
"A visiting coach/spectator commented, 'You should have charged admission,' Lee said. "It was a thriller, no doubt about it."
Paly scored first with sophomore middie-attacker Kimmie Flather (her first of two) just 49 seconds into the game. Menlo's senior middie tri-captain Maggie Brown answered immediately off a feed from her partner in the midfield senior tri-captain Mila Sheeline, less than two minutes later. With goals from Brown, again, and Sheeline in the next two minutes, Menlo was up 3-1 in the first 5:17 of elapsed play.
Paly answered again a few minutes later, on a solo challenge by freshman attacker Charlotte Biffar. Sheeline scored and Paly added one just before the break as Menlo took a 4-3 lead into halftime.
During the second half of regulation, both sides traded goals. Paly scored first, in less than 1 1/2 minutes (Nina Kelty) then Menlo (Brown), then Kelty, again for Paly, and freshman Michaela Michael for Menlo, and so on and so forth. Paly led once at 8-7 with 7:15 to play, but Brown answered with a bullet just 13 seconds off the following draw. Michael converted to put Menlo up 9-8 with 2:11 to play, but it was enough time for Paly the tying goal with just 1:35 to play, by Flather, on an assist from senior defender Lauren Mah.
At 9-9, Menlo prepared for its third overtime of the 2010 season. During the first period of overtime, Paly scored twice (by senior middie Emily Fowler, and senior attacker Brianna Boyd), to lead 11-9. In the second three minutes of OT, Michael rolled for one goal, and Brown converted for the second tie and send the game into sudden death. The first three minutes yielded no goals by either side, and a few huge saves for Menlo's goalie Rachel Star to keep everyone on the edge of their seats.
In the next three minutes of sudden victory/death, Menlo won the first draw, but turned it over in front of the cage with a frenetic feed attempt. Paly's settled offense was patient, but a turnover occurred such that Menlo challenged down the field for yet one more try.
After the ball was loose, Paly came up with it inside the 8 near the crease, and Sheeline leaped for the ball, intercepted it, controlled it (in traffic), and got the shot off from about the five-meter mark -- putting the ball past Paly keeper Laura Cutkosky for the dramatic game-winner in the cold, rain and darkness.
"The buildup of excitement to the contest was tremendous," Lee said. "Both sides knew it was going to be a great matchup and, in every way, the game lived up to the hype."
Sheeline finished with three goals and two assists while Brown scored four goals and Michael added three for the Knights. Flather led Paly with three goals while Nina Kelty and Gracie Cain added two each.
In a SCVAL match, host St. Francis handed Gunn a 15-2 loss.
Palo Alto continued its perfect run through the SCVAL De Anza Division with a 10-1 spanking of host Cupertino on Wednesday. The Vikings (7-0, 11-3) held on to first place by producing 10 hits against the last-place Pioneers.
Wade Hauser had three hits, including a solo home run in the first inning, and a double and scored twice to spark Palo Alto. Christoph Bono added two hits and two RBI with two runs scored. Winning pitcher T.J. Braff helped himself with a double and two RBI while Christian Lonsky had two hits and scored twice for Paly with Cory Tenanes driving in two runs.
Palo Alto will host Cupertino on Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. to finish the home-and-home series before playing rival Gunn in a nonleague game Saturday night at 7:30 at Baylands Athletic Center.
In the Sacramento area, senior pitcher Patrick Moriarty hurled a complete-game, four-hit shutout as Menlo-Atherton defeated Rio Linda, 4-0, on Wednesday morning in the Cordova Easter Tournament in Rancho Cordova.
Moriarty struck out four while allowing only three balls to reach the outfield -– two on singles, and one on a fly out to left.
Moriarty's 98-pitch victory was aided by sterling defensive support from his teammates, including a key double play in the fifth inning and a perfect throw by catcher Jeff Keller to nail a Rio Linda baserunner on a steal attempt in the second inning. Keller also called a brilliant game from the behind the plate as M-A improved its season record to 7-6 and Cordova Easter Tournament mark to 2-2.
M-A took a 1-0 lead in the third inning following a line-drive single by Moriarty and a couple of Rio Linda errors. The Bears scored three important insurance runs in the sixth when Kyle Zirbes singled, Keller walked, Chris Gow laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt, and Nils Gilbertson ripped a two-run single. Chace Warren plated the other run with a sacrifice fly to left.
The Bears' five hits came against talented Rio Linda sophomore pitcher Miles Chambers, who struck out nine while walking just one. M-A returns to action on Thursday in its final game of the Cordova Easter Tournament.
Palo Alto fell out of first place in the SCVAL De Anza Division after falling to host Fremont, 3-2, in nine innings on Wednesday in Sunnyvale. The Vikings (1-1, 9-2) jumped ahead in the first inning as Gracie Marshall, Grace Stafford and Lauren Bucolo started the game with base hits. Kelly Jenks stroked a two-run single to give Paly a 2-0 lead.
The score remained that way until the fifth inning when Fremont struck back. A single and triple scored a run and then an error allowed the tying run.
In extra innings, Paly led off the eighth with a single by Bucolo who advanced to third as Caroline McDonnell laid down a perfect bunt. Jenks hit a hard line drive that was caught and Fremont got the double play to end the threat.
In the ninth inning, Fremont had a one-out triple. Jenks picked up one of her nine strikeouts for the second out, but Fremont blooped a game-winning single to end the contest.
Jenks gave up her first earned run of the season and pitched well enough to win, but Paly came up just short while dropping its second straight. The Vikings lost to Pioneer, 1-0, on Saturday in the finals of the Charlie Miguel Tournament.
Gunn won its third match in as many days by posting a 6-1 nonleague triumph over visiting Aptos on Wednesday. Aside from losing at No. 1 singles, the Titans (9-6) were solid throughout. Bharat Reddy, Clifton Wolak, Jinyan Jiang and Scott McKenzie all won their singles matches in straight sets. The match format was five singles and two doubles.