By Keith Peters
Palo Alto Online Sports
It wasn't looking like a day that Freddy Avis wanted to remember. The junior pitcher gave up three runs in the bottom of the first inning and saw his Menlo School baseball team trailing No. 2 seed Carmel by five runs after three innings in a Central Coast Section Division III semifinal on Tuesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium.
To make matters worse, Avis killed his team's brief rally in the top of the fifth after being caught between second and third and eventually tagged in a rundown following a two-run single by Phil Anderson.
Avis, however, redeemed himself one inning later when he delivered a clutch two-run double to tie the game 8-8 and force extra innings. The Knights loaded the bases in the ninth and freshman Mikey Diekroeger brought home Anderson with a sacrifice fly and Menlo escaped with a 9-8 triumph over the Padres (26-4).
"Freddy's hit was huge," said Menlo coach Craig Schoof, whose team now will have a chance to defend its section championship.
The No. 3-seeded Knights (25-5) will face No. 8 Santa Cruz (15-14) on Saturday at San Jose Municipal Stadium at 4 p.m. The Cardinals eliminated No. 5 Half Moon Bay (23-7) in Tuesday's other semifinal, 12-1.
For Schoof, it was just another wild postseason comeback. His Knights scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to beat Sacred Heart Cathedral in last year's semifinals, 4-3, and rallied from a 5-1 deficit to beat Scotts Valley, 7-6, in the CCS Division III finals in 2004.
This comeback, Schoof acknowledged, may have been the best -- thanks to a never-give-up attitude by his players.
"That's what baseball is all about, having those kind of moments," Avis said.
Trailing 8-2 heading into the top of the sixth, Schoof gathered his team for one final talk. The situation looked grim, for sure.
"Coach Schoof said 'show the heart of a champion. Leave it all on the field,' related senior Jake Bruml. "We just left it all out there. We felt, and knew, we could do it."
Bruml, who had relieved Avis in the fifth and allowed a two-run double, took matters into his own hands with a leadoff double in the top of the sixth.
"I think that leadoff knock was huge," Bruml said. "I think it put pressure on on them. Everything just went our way from then on."
After a strikeout, Diekroeger singled home Bruml and it was 8-3. Tim Benton's double-play grounder was dropped at second and Jake Batchelder was safe on a error to load the bases.
Senior Robert Wickers then delivered a two-run single, a chopper over the third baseman's head. Suddenly, it was 8-5. Austin Marcus was safe when his apparent groundout was dropped at first, with another run coming home for an 8-6 game. After Carmel switched pitchers, Avis greeted him with a booming double to the left-field gap that scored two runs and tied the game.
In the top of the ninth, Anderson walked and Bruml's popup to short right was mishandled for an error by two converging players. The Padres tried to get Anderson at second, but the throw was wild and both runners were safe. Dylan Mayer laid down a bunt, with the new pitcher throwing late to third in an attempt to get Anderson.
With the bases loaded and no outs, Diekroeger lofted a fly ball that was caught, with Anderson tagging at third and scoring the winning run.
Bruml set the Padres down in order in the bottom of the ninth to finish off a relief performance that saw him face 20 batters, allow four hits and strike out seven with just one walk.
Menlo didn't get its first hit until Anderson singled to center in the fourth. The Knights didn't get their first run until the fifth, when Anderson drilled a two-run single with the bases loaded. That gave Menlo life at 5-2 until Carmel scored three runs in the bottom of the frame for an 8-2 lead. The Knights' chances of defending their title looked all but gone at that point.
But, they never gave up.
"I thought it was possible," Schoof said of coming back, but he wasn't sure how probable it was. "We were beating ourselves early. It did not look like our game."
The Knights proved otherwise. Bruml, Batchelder and Anderson all had two hits. Avis, Anderson Diekroeger and Wickers all drove in two runs.
"It doesn't get any better than that," Schoof told his team afterward. Except, perhaps, for winning a fifth CCS title on Saturday.