Early upsets improve Menlo's baseball hopes

No. 3 Knights are highest remaining seed in the CCS Division III semifinals

by Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

Menlo coach Craig Schoof had to like the early results in the Central Coast Section Division III baseball playoffs as No. 1 seed Scotts Valley and No. 2 Palma were upset in the opening round and No. 12 Carmel was ousted in the quarterfinals.

In 2005, the Knights lost to Palma in the semifinals and in 2006 Menlo was beaten by Carmel in the semifinals. As for Scotts Valley, it's always good to see the No. 1 seed gone. Schoof was happy to see always dangerous Sacred Heart Cathedral get beat, also, since the Irish were in Menlo's side of the bracket.

Instead of facing either Palma or Sacred Heart Cathedral in the CCS semifinals on Tuesday night at San Jose Municipal Stadium at 7 p.m., No. 3 Menlo (23-6) will take on No. 7 Monte Vista Christian (19-8).

"In all honesty, having Palma and SHC out is big," Schoof said. "Monte Vista Christian was runnerup last year, so they will be tough."

Thanks to the early upsets, Menlo is the highest seed remaining.

"I love being the higher seed," Schoof said. "It means we're the home team!"

That, or course, means Menlo gets the last at-bat, if it comes to that. Thus far, that hasn't been a factor. The Knights opened with an 11-1 five-inning win over North Monterey County and on Saturday bounced No. 6 Live Oak, 3-1. That avenged a loss to Live Oak in the 2008 semifinals.

Along with Menlo and Monte Vista Christian, the other semifinal on Tuesday (4 p.m.) will match No. 15 Hillsdale (18-11) against No. 4 Soledad (24-4).

Schoof said being the top seed "doesn't make me or the team anymore nervous. In baseball, the best team does not always win. You just have to be good enough to win. Everyone left at this point is good enough to beat anyone else, so it comes down to who plays better! We are confident in ourselves that we will play well."

Menlo played well on Saturday as it got great pitching and outstanding defense to eliminate Live Oak at Hartnell College in Salinas. Menlo sophomore Freddy Avis threw a 103-pitch complete game while allowing only five hits and striking out seven.

Avis was aided by a key pickoff by catcher Jackson Badger and a diving catch by right fielder Phil Anderson to end the game. Offensively, the Knights struggled against the Acorns' hard-luck loser Jake Conlan as they managed only two hits against the lefty -- although they only struck out once. All of Menlo's runs were unearned, but the three runs were enough as Avis was masterful in sending the Knights to the CCS semifinals for third time in the past five years.

While Menlo will bring a 12-game winning streak into its semifinal, Palo Alto will take a school-record streak of 23 consecutive wins into Thursday's CCS Division II semifinal against No. 4 Leland (20-9) at San Jose Municipal Stadium at 7 p.m.

The top-seeded Vikings (28-3) are hoping to extend their school record for most wins in a season when they take on the Chargers for the second time this season. The teams met on April 17 in a nonleague game at Leland, with Paly posting a 14-4 victory.

"As for playing Leland as a team that we have already played, I don't think it makes a difference at this point," said Paly coach Erick Raich. "In the playoffs, your history against a team goes out the door. They are a good team and even though we had good success against them earlier this year, we are going to work hard and prepare for them."

At this point, Palo Alto pretty much needs to keep doing what has brought the Vikings to this point of the season -- continue to make life miserable for the opposing pitchers.

The Vikings did that again Saturday by bouncing No. 9 seed Mountain View in the quarterfinals, 10-2. Palo Alto had 11 hits, with Christoph Bono and Joc Pederson getting two each. The duo also had two RBI each while senior Scott Witte improved to 12-2 by helping limit the Spartans to just three hits. Paly has allowed just six hits in its two CCS victories.

Elsewhere in CCS quarterfinal action Saturday:

An unforgettable season ended for Menlo-Atherton following a 10-2 loss to sixth-seeded Bellarmine in Division I play at St. Francis High School. The loss came less than three days after the biggest win in the history of M-A's baseball program -- Wednesday's stunning 9-5 victory over third-seeded St. Francis, the nation's 58th-ranked team.

The 14-seeded Bears' hopes of reaching the CCS semifinals dimmed when Bellarmine scored three runs in the first inning off M-A starting pitcher Patrick Moriarty. The key blows were a two-run homer to center by Kyle DeMerritt and a run-scoring double by Cody Wong. After surrendering a leadoff single in the second, Moriarty left the game with elbow soreness.

Bellarmine scored four more runs in the second, and three in the third, to take a commanding 10-0 lead. DeMerritt continued to haunt M-A with another two-run homer and a run-scoring fielder's choice, giving him five RBI for the day.

Menlo-Atherton's offense emerged in the fourth inning as the Bears scored two runs off Bellarmine starting pitcher Zack Malik. Junior second baseman Kyle Zirbes singled with one out (one of his three hits in the game), advanced to second on wild pitch, and scored on Jeff Keller's ringing double to left. Keller moved to third on Nils Gilbertson's sharp single to right, and scored on Chace Warren's RBI sacrifice fly to left.

The Bears continued to battle, collecting five more hits, but were unable to dent the scoreboard again against the offerings of four different Bellarmine pitchers.

In addition to Zirbes' three hits, Keller, Gilbertson, Cam Winn, Ryan Chilcoat, Chris Gow, and Andy Brodbeck contributed to M-A's nine-hit attack.

While the contest signaled the end of the M-A seniors' prep careers, it also provided a preview of three sophomore pitchers who should play prominent roles on next season's varsity squad. Nick Lange (one inning), Dylan Cook (one inning), and Ryan Cortez (two innings) all saw action in the game, with Cortez blanking the Bells on one hit in the two frames he pitched.

Menlo-Atherton finished the season with a 16-12 overall record, while making history as the first M-A team to defeat a West Catholic Athletic League opponent in CCS action.

-- Bob Moriarty reported on the Menlo-Atherton game.

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