Menlo's CCS baseball title worth bragging about

Knights (25-6) rally from early deficit to beat Hillsdale, 8-2, in finale

by Keith Peters

Palo Alto Online Sports

Danny Diekroeger has always been in the shadow of his older brother Kenny, even though the two are only a year apart. It was that way when the two played together for three years at Menlo School and it probably will be that way when Danny joins Kenny on the Stanford baseball team next season.

Danny, however, temporarily has stepped out of that shadow and has something even Kenny can't brag about.

"All my life it was Kenny's team that was supposed to win the title," Danny said Saturday after his Menlo team defeated Hillsdale, 8-2, to claim the Central Coast Section Division III championship at San Jose Municipal Stadium. "He did win the (CCS) basketball championship, but I have the baseball. That's the one that counts."

Menlo was supposed to win a CCS crown last season, which was Kenny's senior year. Unfortunately for the Knights, Kenny suffered a late-season injury that derailed those plans after he helped Menlo win the CCS Division IV hoop crown.

Given the chance to one-up his brother, Danny helped make the team's annual goal come true.

"At least every year I've been on varsity, we've set as our goal to win our last game," he said. "And we did that. It's pretty amazing."

And now Danny has bragging rights over Kenny.

"I'll remind him all the time," Danny said.

Menlo's victory on Saturday will be worth repeating as the No. 3-seeded Knights (25-6) finished their season on a 14-game win streak with just another typical performance.

"It kind of typifies our season," Menlo coach Craig Schoof said of the victory. "It wasn't our best game, but we did all the things we needed to do. We're a confident bunch and rightfully so."

Of Menlo's six losses this season, five were by one run and the other was in extra innings by two.

"We're this close to being undefeated!" Schoof said, holding up his index finger and thumb barely an inch apart.

Saturday's victory seemed almost a foregone conclusion since Hillsdale (19-12) came in as the final seed in the 16-team tournament. In a battle between the two Knights, however, it was Hillsdale that struck first and grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.

None of the Menlo players, however, were worried at that point. They had overcome No. 15 Sacred Heart Cathedral with two runs in the bottom of the seventh in a semifinal on Wednesday and had knocked a first-team All-West Catholic Athletic League pitcher (Anthony Villamore) out of the game.

"That was big time," Diekroeger said. "That really set us up. We had to work hard for every run in that game."

Based on that effort, Diekroeger told his teammates before Saturday's game that if things don't start out well, don't worry.

"No matter what happens," he told them, "just stay focused."

His teammates took that to heart and bounced back quickly. After leaving two runners in scoring position in the first, Menlo struck in the second as Freddy Avis walked with one out and Robert Wickers was safe on a error. Senior Jackson Badger then stepped to the plate and delivered perhaps his biggest hit of the season, a two-run double that gave Menlo the lead for good.

"I'm so happy for Jackson Badger," Schoof said. "He struggled at the plate all season and hit under .200. To come up with the biggest hit of the game . . . it was great to see that happen. After Badger's hit, it was like now we can relax."

Hillsdale, however, didn't go away and loaded the bases in the top of the fourth. With two out, Hillsdale's Armando Fajardo hit a high chopper to the edge of the infield grass that Diekroeger charged, short-hopped and threw out the runner to end the final threat.

"That was the play of the game," Schoof said. "Then we come back and score five."

Menlo tallied five times to break the game open in the bottom half of the frame as Badger added another key hit and senior Matt Crowder executed a perfect hit-and-run single to ignite the rally. Avis doubled to lead off, Wickers followed with an RBI single, Badger singled and Phil Anderson brought in a run with a fielder's choice. Crowder single, Diekroeger hit a sacrifice fly, Jake Bruml doubled and two runs scored when Dylan Mayer's fly ball to right was dropped. Mayer was credited with a double on the play.

That made it 7-1 and gave the win to Avis (8-3), who threw 4 2/3 excellent innings while battling a cold. Bruml came in with the bases loaded and one run in the fifth, but recorded a strikeout to end the inning. Hethen slammed the door over the last two innings to earn his first save of the year to go along with the clutch victory in Wednesday's semifinal over Sacred Heart Cathedral.

Schoof admitted that he didn't have a closer until this past week. Bruml will return next season along with Avis and fellow sophomore Jake Batchelder to give the Knights an excellent rotation.

"We'll be good next year," Schoof said. "The juniors will rise up, and we'll be battling."

Much like the Knights did this season, led by its five seniors – Badger, Crowder, Diekroeger, Clay Robbins and Dustin Williams. They leave the program with three straight seasons of more than 20 wins for the first time in school history; 50 wins over their junior and senior campaigns, and a CCS title – Menlo's first since 2004.

Crowder, Robbins, Badger and Diekroeger combined for half of Menlo's 12 hits on Saturday.

"It's really for the seniors," Schoof said of Saturday's finale.

And bragging rights in the Diekroeger family.

Notes: Menlo also won the CCS Scholastic Championship Team Award for having the best combined grade-point average (3.5151) of any other baseball team in the section this season . . . Chuck Huggins, who helped lead the Knights to their last CCS title in 2004, made his Double-A pitching debut on Saturday.

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