Courtesy of Yosh Moriarty
Menlo-Atherton pitcher Erik Amundson rebounded from a disheartening outing in the 2013 playoffs to fire a one-hitter in Thursday’s CCS opener as the Bears upset Watsonville.
One ill-fated gem in a most crucial game is quite possibly the secret to Erik Amundson’s success this season.
Now Menlo-Atherton’s senior ace, Amundson finished on a surreal loss against San Benito in last year’s Central Coast Section Division I playoff opener. The then-junior right-hander took a no-hitter into the sixth inning. Then, with the Bears having taken a one-run lead in the previous half inning, Amundson surrendered back-to-back solo home runs to Robert Soto and Robert Tonascia before giving way to reliever Matt McGarry.
“I went into center field sort of confused and a little disappointed in myself,” Amundson said.
The bombs stood as only two San Benito hits of the game as M-A went to a 3-2 elimination loss.
This year, Amundson again took the ball in M-A’s CCS playoff opener, starting for the No. 12-seeded Bears against No. 5 Watsonville. The senior experienced no confusion or disappointment — only dominance — as he outdid his previous CCS outing by hurling a one-hitter to pace Menlo-Atherton to a 2-1 upset Thursday at Watsonville.
Because of Amundson’s dominant effort, he has been named the San Mateo Daily Journal Athlete of the Week.
“I felt a little more confident because I had been there before,” Amundson said.
Amundson had trouble getting his feet on the ground through the early innings — literally. Because opposing pitcher Chris Rivera’s stride was shorter, Amundson was landing on the heel of his stride foot. The mechanical struggle caused him to hang a slider in the second inning which got pulled down the left-field line for an RBI double — the only hit Amundson surrendered in the game — giving Watsonville a 1-0 lead.
But the Bears immediately claimed the lead with a two-run rally in the third, and Amundson reciprocated big time.
“There’s a lot of pressure when you score to not give up runs in the same inning because of momentum,” Amundson said. “So, I definitely felt that pressure.”
Amundson responded to the pressure by working out of the windup for the rest of the day, firing five perfect innings to close out a 2-1 Bears win.
“He started to hit spots and it really clicked,” M-A catcher Nikolai Tarran said. “It’s pretty much how he’s been all year. He’s been lights out.”
With his fifth complete game of the season, Amundson set the stage for McGarry in Saturday’s quarterfinals against No. 4-seed North Salinas. The Bears again played the part of the underdog, and again delivered an upset, riding McGarry’s three-hitter to a 5-2 win to advance to Thursday’s semifinal matchup.
“[McGarry] threw really well on Saturday,” Amundson said. “Three hits and seven strikeouts. I think they hit one ball out of the infield and that was a little jam-shot over shortstop.”
Now M-A is looking for its biggest upset yet in a clash with top-seeded Wilcox.
It will likely be Amundson who takes the mound in what will be the senior’s final varsity start. He has had a fine career as a three-year varsity standout, posting an 18-10 career record.
Amundson and McGarry have now worked in tandem as the cornerstone of M-A’s starting rotation for two seasons. Both have similar stuff, relying on tailing fastballs which create late sink and induce groundballs. While M-A’s defense has had its ups and downs this season, they showed up in support of Amundson’s playoff gem, committing no errors throughout.
It was the defensive boost that helped Amundson turn around his shaky start, according to Tarran.
“It was definitely help from the defense,” Tarran said. “We got a couple good plays there and I think that really boosted his confidence.”
Now, with confidence riding high, Menlo-Atherton looks to make history — just two wins away from its first ever CCS title.