Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
Erik Amundson was the hard-luck loser in M-A’s loss to Wilcox in the CCS semifinals. The senior worked six innings, giving up two runs on six hits while striking out seven.
SAN JOSE — Two years in a row Menlo-Atherton’s postseason fate has been decided by a balk.
Last year, the Bears were eliminated in the first round of Central Coast Section play when Erik Amundson balked home the go-ahead run in a 3-2 San Benito win.
This year proved something of an instant replay, as Amundson balked home the tie-breaking run in the bottom of the sixth inning, as No. 1-seed Wilcox went on to prevail 2-1 over No.12 Menlo-Atherton 2-1 in the CCS Division I semifinals Thursday at San Jose Municipal Stadium.
With Wilcox (24-8) rallying in the sixth inning amid a 1-1 tie, Amundson was on the verge of pitching out of the jam. With runners on second and third and two outs, Amundson ran up a two-strike count to Wilcox junior Robert Gaylord. On the ensuing delivery though, a hiccup in Amundson’s delivery prompted a balk call, allowing senior Lorenzo Martinez to score the go-ahead run.
“According to the umpire, he started his delivery and then he stopped his delivery,” Menlo-Atherton manager Mike Amoroso said. “Those were his exact words.”
The play proved a dramatic swing of momentum. M-A had rallied in the top of the frame to tie it in dramatic fashion. Bears senior Lawson Joos led off the inning with a single. After Charlie Cain bunted Joos to second, Amundson produced a clutch swing of the bat, launching an RBI double over the left fielder’s head to plate Joos, tying it at 1-1.
“We told our guys to inch up on the plate because we know their pitching staff likes to throw away,” Amoroso said. “So, we got our guys up on the plate … and shortened the swings and Amundson nailed the double to left field and we scored the run.”
M-A had a chance to go large, loading the bases on a weird play. With runners at second and third, Max Gardiner struck out on a ball in the dirt. With Wilcox catcher Martinez coming up with the ball cleanly on one hop, Gardiner took off running for first. But Martinez simply didn’t throw the ball, allowing Gardiner to reach. Wlicox starting pitcher Andrew Najeeb Brush proved the picture of cool, however, simply patting his catcher on the back upon retrieving the ball. Then the Mission College-bound right-hander went right at designated hitter Daniel Kollar-Gasiewski for a three-pitch strikeout.
In a shutdown inning in the seventh, Najeeb Brush delivered the knockout blow, striking out the side with all three punch-outs coming on called third strikes.
“I dug deep,” Najeeb Brush said. “I had adrenaline pitching at this field. It’s a beautiful field. I walked out the seventh inning and thought: Why not us? We want it and we worked for it.”
Amundson and Najeeb Brush locked up in a classic pitchers’ duel befitting of a playoff game. Both pitchers went the distance, with Amundson working six innings of six-hit baseball, striking out seven against one walk and two hit batsmen.
“He’s been a workhorse for us all year long,” Amoroso said. “He is our No. 1. We’re going to miss him a lot next year. I thought he did a great job.”
Najeeb Brush’s control was nearly flawless though. He allowed five hits through seven innings while striking out 10 against no walks and one hit batsman to earn the win.
“Both pitchers were throwing a lot of strikes, not a lot of walks,” M-A senior Brett Moriarty said. “They were making you earn every time you got on base. The other pitcher did a great job keeping everyone off balance. … I think he saved a little for the end. He was definitely throwing a little harder at the end.”
The game was scoreless into the fourth, when Wilcox drew first blood. With one out, Gaylord singled to left then later stole second. With two outs, Jacob Martinez shot a single to left. M-A left fielder Matt DeTrempe made an accurate throw towards home plate that looked like it had a chance of nailing Gaylord. But the ball was cut off, allowing Gaylord to score, with Martinez getting thrown out trying to take second to end the inning.
With the win, Wilcox advances to Saturday’s championship game to take on Westmont, as the Warriors defeated Sequoia 2-0 in the early game Thursday at Municipal Stadium.
Despite the loss, the M-A team was in relatively good spirits in the postgame powwow. The squad has a right to be, as Thursday’s game marks the first time the M-A program has even played in a CCS semifinal game.
“The entire season has been a rollercoaster season,” Amoroso said. “The [Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division] is an extremely tough league. There’s a lot of parity up there. And for us to make it this far, we made school history. It’s the first time we’ve ever made it into the semis. It’s been a great season … and we have a famous phrase for games like this: We didn’t lose. We just ran out of innings.”