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Menlo comes up short
May 28, 2014, 05:00 AM By Terry Bernal Daily Journal

Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
Menlo manager Craig Schoof watches Branham celebrate a 3-1 win over the Knights in the CCS Division II semifinals. It was the final game for Schoof, who is stepping down after 27 years running the program.

Fourth-year varsity senior Kenny Diekroeger takes the final swing of his Menlo career as he reached on a fielding error in the sixth inning of the Knights’ 3-1 loss to Branham in Tuesday’s CCS semifinal at San Jose Municipal Stadium. The youngest of three brothers who have played at Menlo, there has been a Diekroeger on the varsity squad every season since 2007.

The fairytale ending was not to be for Craig Schoof’s final season at the helm of the Menlo Knights.

After reaching the final four with a pair of upsets last week in defeating Capuchino and Santa Cruz, No. 12-seeded Menlo finally succumbed with a 3-1 loss to No. 8 Branham in the Central Coast Section Division II semifinals Tuesday at San Jose Municipal Stadium.

Schoof was visibly emotional after a long postgame powwow with his squad, as it will be his last after 27 years as manager of the Knights. After posting a career record in CCS play of 31-19 — including five championship titles in 1988, ‘89, 2004, ‘10 and ‘11 — Schoof was hoping to conclude his legacy with two more wins. It was not to be, however.

“I’ve never been prouder of a team,” Schoof said. “When you consider what we’ve lost over the last couple years as far as talent and everything … and to get back to [Municipal Stadium]. We talked about it. It was the drive for five to get back to Muni for the fifth straight championship game and we fell two runs short.”

Menlo (19-13) seemed poised to go on the offensive in the first inning, jumping out to a quick 1-0 lead. But Branham (19-14) answered back with a three-run rally in the bottom of the first to cap the day’s scoring.

Bruins starting pitcher Alex Zarate took it from there. The big left-hander, who evokes memories of Fernando Valenzuela, retired 13 of 14 Menlo batters between the first and the fifth innings. The senior ultimately went the distance to earn the win, while allowing just one Menlo base runner to reach scoring position after the first inning.

“He’s a good pitcher,” Schoof said. “He kept the ball down. He kept the ball away. Not overpowering … but when he wanted to he could hump up and throw the ball by us.”

Menlo right-hander Wyatt Driscoll overcame a topsy-turvy first inning to tab his fourth consecutive complete game. The senior locked up with Zarate to seize a game seemingly destined to be a slugfest and grind it into a pitching duel. After he was touched for three hits in the first, Driscoll allowed just two more the rest of the way.

Driscoll is quite the story, as the senior entered into the season with just 5 1/3 innings pitched on his varsity resume. He didn’t play as a sophomore because of a leg injury he endured while playing football which required a battery of surgeries to repair. 

“To watch a kid like Wyatt Driscoll … that’s what it’s about,” Schoof said. “Here’s a kid who thought he might not walk, he might not ever have a chance to do anything athletically again. … He struggled in the first inning. After that, he was nails. They didn’t come close to scoring after that.”

Menlo got on the board in the first. Mikey Diekroeger shot the first pitch of the game into left-center for a single. However, before Zarate threw another pitch, he picked off Diekroeger. But Graham Stratford kept the pressure on with a single to center. Stratford was retired on the base paths with Jared Lucian reaching on a fielder’s choice, after which Lucian stole second. Then cleanup hitter Carson Gampell singled to right to score Lucian, giving the Knights a 1-0 lead.

But Branham took advantage of an early bout of wildness by Driscoll. Michael Walls and Mitch Anders drew back-to-back walks to start the frame. Noah Antonello followed with an RBI single through the middle to score Walls, with Anders moving to third. Zarate produced a sacrifice fly to right to score Anders. Then Cameron Caldwell shot a two-out RBI single to left to plate Antonello, giving the Bruins a 3-1 lead.

The damage could have been much worse for Menlo, as Branham’s Arman Sabouri followed with a booming shot over the head of Antonio Lopez in left field, but Lopez got the ball back to the infield in a hurry to catch Caldwell in a rundown between second and third for the second out of the inning. Chris Kiefer promptly made the third out with a line shot to Diekroeger at short.

Menlo had its best opportunity to add runs in the sixth, but did not score after having runners at the corners with no outs. Diekroeger led off the inning with a sharp grounder that went through the wickets of Branham first baseman Kiefer, allowing Diekroeger to reach second. Stratford followed with a bunt single to move Diekroeger to third. But after Lucian switched places with Stratford at first base on a fielder’s choice, Gampell hit into a tailor-made double play to end the inning, stranding Diekroeger at third.

Stratford recorded three of Menlo’s five hits in the game, going 3 for 3 to match his career-high. The senior team captain has tabbed three hits in game three times previous, twice last season against each Hillsdale and Crystal Springs Uplands and once this year against Olympian.

“If we erase that first inning and play the way we wanted to, I think we could have won that game,” Stratford said. “It’s too bad the game went the way it did. I’d rather not play as well to have our team win and to keep playing baseball. It’s been a great season we’ve had this year and I just wanted it to keep going. I’ve had so much fun.”

In addition to it being Schoof’s last game managing the Knights, the loss also marks the end of the Diekroeger era at Menlo. With the overlapping varsity careers of the three brothers — Kenny, Danny and Mikey — there has been a Diekroeger at Menlo dating back to 2007.

Yet the game was the last of an emotional tribute season to Schoof, who will be missed greatly, according to Menlo assistant coach Tink Reynoso. 

“[The players have] been behind him 110 percent,” Reynoso said. “They really wanted this game for him. Each one of them patted him on the back, as all the coaches did, sending him off the best we could as of right now. The kids are really going to miss him badly. … This is really his program. And whoever comes in has really got some big shoes to fill.”

 

 

 

Tags: first, menlo, after, diekroeger, inning, schoof,


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