Throughout Menlo manager Craig Schoof’s 27 years at the helm of the Knights, he had never seen his team turn a triple play.
Not only did the Knights turn a triple play Wednesday, but they did so in the most dramatic fashion to close out the Central Coast Section Division II opener at Capuchino.
Clinging to a one-run lead with the bases loaded and no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning, Menlo shortstop Mikey Diekroeger wrestled a soft liner over the middle, stepped on second and then threw on to first to end the game, sending the No. 12-seed Knights to Saturday’s quarterfinal with a 2-1 victory while ending No. 5 Capuchino’s season.
But controversy ensued. As the Menlo players stormed the field in celebration, Capuchino contested the call, claiming the ball short-hopped Diekroeger’s glove. As the umpires huddled briefly to confer, Schoof ran onto the field to settle his players until the call was upheld.
“No way it bounced,” Diekroeger said. “I, for sure, had dirt in my glove. The ball was in my glove. No way I dropped it.”
Capuchino manager Matt Wilson had a different take on the stunning final play.
“The ball hit the ground,” Wilson said. “I saw the ball hit the ground. That’s why our [base runners] went. … Everyone saw it. And that’s fine. I don’t want to take anything away from [Menlo]. They won the game. Their pitcher did a great job keeping us off balance. It shouldn’t have come to that. But at the same time, it didn’t feel like it’s the way the game should have ended.”
Indeed, Menlo’s Wyatt Driscoll and Cap’s Rory McDaid locked up for quite a pitchers’ duel. Each of the senior right-handers went the distance, though their performances were quite offsetting.
Driscoll allowed one run on nine hits and pitched out of trouble throughout as the Mustangs stranded seven runners in the game, including five runners in scoring position. And even though the Knights had sophomore reliever Antonio Lopez all warmed up and ready to go in the seventh, Schoof decided to live or die with his senior ace.
“He’s been our horse all year,” Schoof said. “He’s a senior. He’s tough as nails. What he’s had to go through personally (with a football injury two years ago) … what the hell? If we lose, I’m going to go down with him.”
McDaid allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, taking a one-hitter into the sixth inning. The Peninsula Athletic League strikeout king tabbed eight strikeouts, including his 100th of the year with a sixth-inning strikeout of Menlo cleanup hitter Carson Gampell.
“Rory overmatched them and he had no business losing,” Capuchino pitching coach Edgar Hernandez said. “But someone’s got to lose.”
Menlo struck first by scratching out an unearned run in the third. Macklan Badger led off the inning with a walk. The junior moved to second base on a groundout by Lopez. Then with two outs, Diekroeger hit a grounder to shortstop on which Kyle Patterson made an errant throw to first, allowing Badger to score to give Menlo a 1-0 lead.
In the fifth, Capuchino rallied to tie it. Dylan Arsenault led off the inning with a single to right. Riley Gibbons bunted Arsenault to second. Chris Kosta followed with an infield single to move Arsenault to third. Then Patterson hit a one-out grounder that had double-play written all over it, but Diekroeger couldn’t field it cleanly and the shortstop was able to get only one out on the play, allowing Arsenault to score to tie it 1-1.
But Diekroeger had a chance to make up for the miscue by leading off the next inning, and that’s precisely what he did.
“I was [upset] that I let Wyatt down,” Diekroeger said. “He had a double play there for us and unfortunately we only got one (out). We would have been out of the inning up 1-0. So … I was the first one up, I told myself I was going to take a hack and get us back in the game.”
Diekroeger scorched a double to deep center field to set the stage for Menlo’s hottest hitter, Jared Lucian. Fresh off a 6-for-11 showing throughout three games in Menlo’s PAL Tournament championship win last week — including a career-high four hits in the semifinals at Cap — Lucian again delivered, shooting an RBI double to left-center to score Diekroeger, giving the Knights a 2-1 edge.
Cap looked poised for a dramatic comeback in the bottom of the seventh, though. Arsenault — who went 3 for 3 in just his seventh career varsity game — led off with a double to right-center that winged off the glove of a diving center fielder Graham Stratford. Gibbons followed by laying down his third bunt of the game, but the sacrifice attempt went for a single to put runners at first and third. Kosta hit a grounder through the middle that would have likely scored Arsenault had Driscoll not nabbed it with a backhanded dive. Driscoll was not able to produce an out from the grounder, though, setting the stage for Patterson’s fateful at-bat to end it.
“I was trying to get a ground ball to anyone on the infield, maybe get the out at home or turn two on it,” Driscoll said. “That was my real mindset. But right when I saw the line drive, at first I thought, ‘Oh [shoot] it’s a hit.’ When I saw Mikey there and he caught it, I knew that we might have [a triple play].”
For all in the Capuchino dugout, the scene was surreal.
“That’s just heartbreaking,” McDaid said. “It’s hard to watch. I saw [Diekroeger] pick it. He didn’t catch it. It’s just hard when an umpire decides our season.”
Capuchino closes its season with a 22-9 overall record, leading all PAL teams in wins.
Menlo improves to 16-12 and moves on to Saturday’s quarterfinal to face No. 4-seed Santa Cruz. For Schoof — who will step down as Menlo’s manager at the end of the season — his quest for a sixth CCS title stays alive with a little bit of magic.
“Twenty-seven years at Menlo, we’ve never had a triple play,” Schoof said. “We’ve hit into one, but we’ve never actually had one defensively. So, to get the first one to get the CCS win in a first-round game at Capuchino in the seventh inning to win a 2-1 game, we’ll take it.”