Nathan Mollat/Daily Journal
Menlo closer Antonio Lopez II, center, is mobbed by his teammates after he got the final he preserved a 7-6 Knights’ win over M-A in the PAL tournament championship game Friday.
For the second time in two games, the Menlo-Atherton baseball team was looking for an improbable rally.
Wednesday, in the second round against Aragon, the Bears scored twice in the bottom of the 10th inning on a two-run safety squeeze play to beat the Dons 6-5.
Friday, M-A trailed Menlo School 7-3 going into the top of the seventh inning in the Peninsula Athletic League tournament championship game at Half Moon Bay Friday afternoon. Charlie Cain and Erik Amundson opened the inning with back-to-back singles and Lawson Joos drew a walk to load the bases with no outs.
Menlo manager Craig Schoof then went to his closer, sophomore Antonio Lopez II, bringing him in from left field to face the heart of the M-A order.
Lopez was the fourth pitcher of the game for the Knights.
It took Lopez a few pitches to find a groove, walking Jordan Long and Brett Moriarity to bring in a pair of runs. Daniel Kollar-Gasiewski followed with a sacrifice fly to left to drive in the third run in the inning for the Bears as they cut their deficit to 7-6.
There would be rousing comeback this time.
Lopez buckled down and struck out the next two batters to preserve the win for the Knights and give them the title in the inaugural PAL tournament.
“Once I got the first out, it was easier to get on a roll,” Lopez said. “Those are [the situations] you live for. I prefer to come in with a fresh inning. Once you get put in that situation, you have to play ball.”
Schoof said Lopez has been the designated closer this season for his team, but he had not seen a ton of work because Schoof needed Lopez in left field.
“It’s been a while since he’s been out there,” Schoof said.
Although disappointed in the loss, M-A manager Mike Amoroso was satisfied to see his team battle all game long. The Bears took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, only to see the Knights put up a four-spot in the bottom of the frame. M-A would add single runs in the second and fifth innings, cutting Menlo’s lead to 4-3, before the Knights tacked on three big insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth.
If not for a couple of badly-timed errors, M-A might have scraped out the win.
“We didn’t take care of the ball,” Amoroso said. “We were a hit away (from taking the lead). It was apparent Menlo was running low on pitching.
“However, I’m glad [my] guys battled.”
The leaky defense more than likely cost M-A starting pitcher Jordan Long a shot at the win. An error and an inability to get a crucial force-out at second extended Menlo’s first-inning rally as Jared Lucian, Sam Crowder, Christian Pluchar and Macklan Badger all came up with RBIs for the Knights.
After the rocky first inning, Long settled down and shut down the Knights. He went on to retire the next seven batters he faced and 10 of the next 12 without allowing another hit, only a pair of walks — one in the fourth and one in the fifth.
Long left the game after giving up a Carson Gampell single leading off the bottom of the sixth.
“What a baller,” Amoroso said of Long’s performance, adding Long had pitched maybe six innings this season. “I think he did a great job out there.”
M-A took a 1-0 lead in the first when Amundson drew a four-pitch walk and stole second. With one out, Long drove in Amundson with an opposite-field single to right.
After Menlo’s four-run first, the Bears started to chip away. Cain used a sacrifice fly to drive in Matt Johnston, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, to cut the Knights lead in half. In the fifth, Joos singled, went to second on a sacrifice bunt, took third on a passed ball and scored on a Moriarity single to left to cut M-A’s deficit to one, 4-3.
In the bottom of the sixth, shaky defense and ineffective relief pitching hurt the Bears. After Gampell’s single, Crowder sacrificed him to second. Pluchar was intentionally walked and Badger was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Following a popout, Lopez came to the plate and hit a chopper down the first-base line. The M-A first baseman got a glove on the ball, but couldn’t corral it and it trickled into foul territory behind first, enabling Gampell and Pluchar to score and give Menlo a 6-3 lead. Mikey Diekroeger followed with an RBI single to put the Knights up 7-3.
The win was especially satisfying for Schoof, who announced earlier this year it would be his final season at Menlo as he was stepping down as the school’s baseball coach and athletic director.
“It’s surreal, in a sense,” Schoof said. “We treated [the tournament games] as non-league games, but there was a different feeling today (in the championship game). I think the kids wanted to [win] it for me.”
The season is not over for either team as both have qualified for the Central Coast Section playoffs beginning next week. The selection meeting is this weekend in San Jose.