As big a day as Jared Lucian had at the plate, Menlo still could have topped Capuchino without him.
With a 14-1 win in Thursday’s Peninsula Athletic League Tournament semifinal playoff at Capuchino, the Knights advance to Friday’s championship game against Menlo-Atherton. And the secret to the Menlo’s success in the PAL playoffs is that Knights manager Craig Schoof saved his two best pitchers for last.
Menlo right-hander Wyatt Driscoll went the distance to improve his record to 7-4. The senior has been an interesting weapon this season. Thursday’s outing marked his 18th start of the year, though many have been in two or three-inning stints. Driscoll has working into the sixth inning just five times this year, but Thursday’s complete-game victory — his fourth of the season — marked his second consecutive outing in which he hasn’t allowed an earned run.
“Coach told me yesterday I was getting the ball so I knew I would go a couple innings,” Driscoll said. “But I was obviously having some success. … It really worked out for me today.”
Schoof said the original plan was to use Driscoll for a few innings before going to the bullpen, but he was so efficient in needing just 35 pitches to get through the first three innings that Schoof decided to ride his senior ace.
“Wyatt’s (pitch count) was low today and all of a sudden I’m thinking, ‘Do we want to burn any other pitchers?’” Schoof said. “So, I just let Wyatt run with it. He’s got five days before he starts next Wednesday in the first [Central Coast Section playoff] game. So, I just kind of ran with Wyatt.
Menlo had a big day at the plate as well, banging out 14 hits in the game, with seven runs on seven hits coming in the seventh inning. Lucian went large with a 4-for-5 day — including two hits in one inning in the seventh — clubbing a double and a home run and totaling five RBIs and three runs scored on the day.
“I’ve just been trying to stay down on the ball, no pop-ups,” Lucian said. “And I hit the ball well today.”
The sophomore second baseman actually started the game at shortstop with a slew of Menlo players running late due to AP testing. And by the time Lucian moved over to second base in the third inning with the arrival of regular shortstop Mikey Diekroeger, the Knights were already staked to a 5-0 lead.
Unlike Menlo, Capuchino used its three regular pitchers through the first two rounds of the PAL Tournament. Junior left-hander Joe Galea went the distance in Tuesday’s opener to lead the Mustangs past Sequoia 3-1. And right-handers Rory McDaid and Antonio Martinucci combined for seven innings of work in Wednesday’s 5-3 win over Carlmont. So, the Mustangs had to turn to an untested junior Thursday in right-hander Jesse Palafox.
In just his third appearance of the year, and his first start, Palafox lasted just 1 2/3 innings in taking the loss. Cap followed with 4 1/3 innings from senior Austin Keyser in just his fourth appearance of the season. Then the Mustangs turned to a pair of frosh-soph call-ups as sophomores Joe Katout and Joe Gutierrez each made their varsity debuts.
“I’ll be honest, the boys were pooped a little bit,” Capuchino manager Matt Wilson said. “We played two tough games against top teams and [Thursday] our top three pitchers were already done, and we had to go to our staff ... and we went to guys that didn’t throw as many innings [this year]. But that’s the way it was going to go. If it didn’t happen today, it was going to happen tomorrow.”
With teams having to play as many as four games in four days throughout the PAL Tournament, being pooped is pretty much par for the course. Menlo was fortunate in that it received a first-round bye then got a complete-game gem Wednesday out of sophomore Davis Rich in just his second start of the year Wednesday in a 5-4 win over Half Moon Bay.
All-in-all, the PAL Tournament has no impact on the PAL standings or on CCS seeding. The wins and losses in the tourney don’t even equate into teams’ records. The playoff tourney is essentially a warm-up for the CCS playoffs, and the games are valuable in that they allow for teams to play competitively instead of having to sit out a week heading into CCS.
“Honestly, we’re actually treating [the PAL Tourney] as non-league games because they don’t really mean anything,” Schoof said. “At this point of the year, if you can get three games it’s good because you probably get more out of playing games than you do out of practice.”
With pride on the line though, the games themselves still mean a lot to coaches and players alike. But with the daily grind of playing twice as many games as high school teams ordinarily would during almost any other stretch of the season, the tournament also serves as a valuable tool in which coaches can assess the depth of their respective baseball programs.
“It would be nice to win it, because you take pride in winning your league and everything,” Wilson said. “And no matter what, we play the game to play the game. We didn’t come out to lose, that’s for sure. But we got to see a lot of guys.”
Menlo will match up with Menlo-Atherton in Friday’s PAL Tournament championship game at Half Moon Bay. First pitch is scheduled for 4. p.m.
“We have a pretty good shot to win [Friday],” Schoof said. “We really have a deep pitching staff. We’ve groomed it into a deep pitching staff. I wouldn’t say at the beginning of the year it was deep at all. But we’ve really capitalized on other teams’ mistakes and we’re really hitting our spots.”