by Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
Menlo senior Matt Crowder lined a bases-loaded single in the bottom of the seventh inning that scored two runs and carried the Knights to a thrilling 4-3 come-from-behind victory over Sacred Heart Cathedral in a Central Coast Section Division III baseball semifinal on Wednesday in Atherton.
"It was pretty tense," Crowder said of the Menlo dugout before his game-winning hit. "I felt more nervous when I was standing in the dugout."
While Crowder said he once stole home to end a game, but that Wednesday's hit was something special.
"This was the biggest hit in my career," he admitted.
The victory sends No. 3 Menlo (24-6) into Saturday's championship game against No. 16 Hillsdale (19-11) at San Jose Municipal Stadium at 1 p.m. Menlo will be seeking its fourth section championship, its first since 2004.
Despite trailing 3-1 heading into the bottom of the fourth, Menlo battled back. The Knights scored once in the fourth to make it a 3-2 game and then staged their dramatic rally in the seventh. Sophomore Freddy Avis led off with walk and junior Robert Wickers, after showing bunt, slapped a single. Senior Jackson Badger then put down what should have been a sacrifice bunt, but the SHC third baseman took too much time deciding which base to throw to and all runners were safe.
Crowder came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. The Knights had the heart of their lineup coming up with Stanford-bound Danny Diekroeger and junior Jake Bruml, so the outlook was very bright for the home team. Crowder, however, took matters into his own hands and lined a single up the middle. Pinch-runner Jordan Winawer easily scored from third and Wickers, on second, was waved home and slid safely in with the winning run.
Menlo was held to one infield hit for five innings by Anthony Villamore, a first-team All-West Catholic Athletic League pitcher who struck out eight but did walk five and hit one.
Menlo sophomore Jake Batchelder weathered a 31-pitch first inning during which the Irish scored once on a passed ball. He got out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing a fly ball to left.
The Knights tied it in the bottom of the first after Phil Anderson was hit by a pitch and Crowder was credited with an infield single when the second baseman slipped while trying to throw him out. After Diekroeger flied out and the runners moved up on a wild pitch, Bruml brought home Anderson with a sacrifice fly.
Sacred Heart scored single runs in the second and fourth while Menlo was still looking for a hit. The Knights got to within 3-2 in the bottom of the fourth without the benefit of a hit. Crowder and Diekroeger walked and, after two strikeouts and a wild pitch had moved the runners up, senior Clay Robbins lined a hard grounder at the SHC third baseman, who bobbled the ball. That allowed Crowder to score, but Diekroeger was caught between second and third and tagged out.
Menlo got out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the fifth when the SHC runner at second was picked off by Batchelder. Instead of trying to tag out the runner, Diekroeger threw home to Badger, who tagged out a sliding Dominic Defiesta for the rally-killing out.
Batchelder left after five innings and 103 pitches, but Bruml limited the Irish to just a pair of hits and no runs the final two innings to set the stage for the Knights' dramatic comeback.