Entering into Saturday’s championship round for the District 6 Babe Ruth 14-year-old All-Star Tournament, Palo Alto needed two wins to upset undefeated Bel-Mateo.
Backed by an epic performance from its secret weapon Ole Erickson, Palo Alto did just that. In making his debut with the team Saturday, Erickson swung Palo Alto to a sweep in the championship round with wins of 5-4 and 15-5 at the Belmont Sports Complex.
Erickson and his all-star teammate Niko Lillios joined Palo Alto Saturday after returning from a trip to Arizona with their travel-ball team California Club Baseball. Both were key components to Palo Alto’s success as Lillios earned the win on the mound in Game 2. And Erickson was a force at the plate, going 5 for 6 with six RBIs throughout the decisive doubleheader.
“I was fortunate enough to have our [No. 1 and 2] guys get on base almost every time,” Erickson said. “I was just trying to get a hit to keep it going because I know I have guys hitting behind me that can get it done.”
Erickson’s biggest hit on the day capped a comeback in extra inning for Palo Alto in Game 1. In Game 2, Palo Alto tabbed crooked numbers in four of five innings, cruising to a mercy-rule win against a noticeably lackadaisical Bel-Mateo squad.
“We were a little worn out,” Bel-Mateo manager Nic Bojarski said. “There’s a little bit of fatigue involved. I can not make excuses and blame the loss on that though. It’s baseball.”
Bel-Mateo looked poised to capture the championship in extra innings after breaking a 3-3 tie in the top of the ninth on an RBI single by Ryan McWilliams.
“From there I was thinking, ‘Holy smokes, we’re going to state,” Bojarski said. “But you’ve got to give credit where credit is due. Palo Alto played a great game. … They hit us where it hurt.”
Palo Alto made Bel-Mateo pay for two costly errors to open the bottom of the ninth. McWilliams, Bel-Mateo’s second baseman, was charged with an error on a pop-up to shallow right field to start the inning. McWilliams had the ball in his glove, but as the right fielder collided with him, the ball fell to the turf allowing Palo Alto’s leadoff man to reach base.
After a Bel-Mateo throwing error put runners at first and third with no outs, Sean Young tabbed an RBI single to tie it. Erickson then stepped to the plate with runners at first and second and promptly laced a single to right-center to score Tony Masetti with the game-winner.
The ninth-inning letdown cost Bel-Mateo reliever Zane Van Arsdel. Van Arsdel entered at the start of the seventh and pitched through a first-and-third, one-out jam by inducing a groundball double play. In the eighth, he stranded another Palo Alto runner in scoring position by pitching through shoddy defensive play.
Van Arsdel headed into the bottom of the ninth in line for a win. But Palo Alto capitalized on Bel-Mateo’s errors by touching the right-hander for two unearned runs and sticking him with the hard-luck loss.
In Game 2, Palo Alto picked up right where it left off with the bats by rallying for three runs in the first to take a 3-1 lead. After adding three runs in the third, Bel-Mateo generated a four-run rally by sending nine batters to the plate in the fourth to close to within a run.
McWilliams sparked the Bel-Mateo rally with a leadoff single. Van Arsdel and cleanup hitter Casey Williamson drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. Josh Vasquez then hit a comebacker which saw McWilliams pegged at the plate. But with the bases still loaded, Sean Prozell launched a two-run double to left-center. A sacrifice fly from Ben Carrithers brought home Vasquez. And Zack Smurthwaite singled home Prozell, cutting Palo Alto’s lead to 6-5 before Matt Gursky came on in relief to escape the jam with the lead intact.
It was as close as Bel-Mateo would get though, as Palo Alto stormed right back with its third three-run rally of the game in the bottom of the fourth. Then in the fifth, Palo Alto sent 10 batters to the plate amid a six-run rally to invoke the 10-run mercy rule. Zach Weseloh had the decisive RBI knock, plating Timmy Goode to end it.
The stars aligned for Palo Alto’s pitchers en route to the championship triumph. Entering into Saturday play, the team had received two consecutive complete games — one from David Clarke in a 3-2 loss Thursday to Bel-Mateo, and a five-inning effort Friday from Shane Wallace in a mercy-rule blowout of Mountain View.
Gursky’s relief outing in Saturday’s nightcap also loomed large. The right-hander faced the minimum through 1 1/3 innings to earn the save.
“By the time we got to [Gursky], we were probably down to our last actual pitcher,” Palo Alto manager Rick Farr said.
With the win, Palo Alto advances to the Babe Ruth 14-Year-Old All-Star State Tournament in Woodland. Play begins Saturday at Clark Field.
The Babe Ruth 13-15-Year-Old All-Star State Tournament will be hosted by the Belmont Sports Complex beginning July 19.