Terry Bernal/Daily Journal
Menlo pitcher Justin Nam, left, and catcher Ben Somorjai celebrate after the final out in the Central Coast Section Division II baseball championship.
SAN JOSE — When it was all said and done, Menlo School’s repeat as Central Coast Section Division II champions could have been an afterthought. But Knights first-year manager Sean Riley made certain his team celebrated the program’s seventh all-time CCS title.
The No. 11-seeded Menlo Knights (19-10-1 overall) swept through the CCS bracket allowing just six runs through four games, backed by the senior arms of Griff McGarry and Chandler Yu. It was McGarry who shined Saturday at Municipal Stadium in a 1-0 win over No. 8 Burlingame (14-13-1) in the first all-Peninsula Athletic League championship game in CCS history.
McGarry worked 6 2/3 innings of shutout baseball to earn the win, retiring 13 of the last 14 batters he faced before being pulled due to reaching the 110-pitch limit. Right-hander Justin Nam then entered to record the game’s final out, setting off the Menlo dogpile in the middle of the infield for the second straight year.
But an injury suffered by Menlo junior Eric Chang in the second inning quelled the spirits of the Knights. Chang, who did not play in the game, was struck in the head by a line drive into the dugout in the second inning. Chang was taken to the hospital during the game for X-rays and was initially diagnosed with a concussion and released, according to Menlo manager Sean Riley.
“He’s OK,” Riley said immediately following the game. “He went to the hospital for X-rays … but they think he’s going to be OK.”
It was this sentiment that allowed Riley to dial his team back to the business at hand after the horrific second-inning scene.
Sunday, however, Riley said Chang was so sick after returning home that his parents took him to Stanford University Medical Center where junior underwent emergency surgery Saturday night to alleviate a blood clot in his head. Riley was at the hospital until 11:30 p.m. until he was reassured by Chang’s father the surgery was a success, Riley said. As of Sunday afternoon, Chang was recovering in the intensive care unit, Riley said.
“He seems to be fine, his father told me, after the surgery,” Riley said. “The surgery went really quick. So everything went good.”
The injury could have overshadowed an otherwise brilliant baseball game. But both team ultimately left their best baseball on the diamond as McGarry settled in with Burlingame right-hander Gray Goodman for an epic pitching duel, competing into a scoreless fifth until Menlo manufactured a run in the top of the inning.
Menlo set the table with one out when freshman Kevin Alarcon walked and No. 9 hitter Justin Kasser followed with a single to put runners at the corners. Then, after Burlingame manager Shawn Scott held a conference at the mound to go over situations, Menlo executed a double-steal with Kasser swiping second, then Kevin Alarcon racing home when the catcher’s throw went through to second base.
“If the catcher threw it down to second, I was going to go,” Kevin Alarcon said. “And that’s what I did.”
The double-steal was one of the situations Scott addressed during the mound conference. The play called for Burlingame catcher Robbie Harrigan to throw through to second base, but with shortstop Mitch DeMartini cutting in front of the bag to take a short throw and fire back to the plate. Harrigan’s throw was offline, however, forcing DeMartini to dive back across his body merely to glove it, allowing Kevin Alarcon to score uncontested.
“That ball was just off from Robbie,” Scott said. “That’s all it takes in a game like this.”
One of two freshmen in Menlo’s starting lineup, Kevin Alarcon wasn’t with the team last season during the program’s sixth all-time CCS title run. With his older brother, senior first baseman Roberto Alarcon, on the team, it made the freshman’s midseason call-up go much smoother, he said. And scoring the game’s only run was a meaningful highlight to his young varsity career.
“It means a lot,” Kevin Alarcon said. “I did it for the seniors. My brother is a senior and all the seniors really helped me out when I got called up. I was really nervous when I came up and they welcomed me with open arms.”
Menlo’s pitching did the rest. McGarry pitched out of two jams in the early innings and was masterful from then on. Burlingame had two on with one out in the first, but McGarry responded with back-to-back strikeouts. He went on to strike out four straight and recorded seven punch-outs on the day. In the third, he issued consecutive one-out walks, but escaped with a groundout and an infield pop-out.
And while McGarry found his groove after the Knights took the lead, he said he didn’t let the scoreboard alter his approach on the mound.
“I tried to stay to the game routine,” McGarry said. “I like to stay sure-minded when I’m out there. And it all worked out.”
Goodman battled through six innings to take the hard-luck loss, allowing one run on four hits.
“He did a remarkable job,” Harrigan said. “He pounded the zone throughout the game.”
Goodman nearly surrendered a run in the fourth inning, but his defense produced a big-time out at the plate to cut down the would-be run. With Nam the runner at second and two outs, Menlo senior Nolan Peterson lined a single to center, but the knock one-hopped center fielder Savaun Brown, who quickly fired a one-hop strike to the plate. Harrigan gathered to tag out Nam on a bang-bang play, sending the Panthers back into the dugout with a surge of momentum.
But McGarry answered by setting down the side in the bottom of the frame.
“He’s a big-time pitcher with big-time stuff,” Scott said. “That’s why it was a one-run game.”
It seemed unfair McGarry had to come out of the game due to reaching the pitch-count cap with two outs in the seventh. But the senior said he had no problem handing the ball over to Nam for the final out.
“I have all the trust in the world in Justin,” McGarry said. “He did it in the quarterfinal game, and he did it again today.”
Riley got emotional in the postgame press conference when addressing the death of his son Calvin, a 2015 graduate of Serra High School who was shot and killed Aug. 6, 2016 in San Francisco. The Serra Padres — who played at Municipal Stadium later Saturday in the CCS Open Division championship game — dedicated their season to Calvin, and wore his initials and uniform number, “CMR 9” on their sleeves.
Riley, who took the job at Menlo after Calvin’s death, said it has been tough on he and his family, but steered the answer back to his team’s championship victory.
“The boys competed,” Riley said. “They competed every pitch.”