Early playoff exits are a sports team’s worst nightmare. Palo Alto High School athletics in particular have experienced this in the past few years; from the boys’ basketball team losing in the first round of the Central Coast Section playoffs two years in a row, to the girls’ soccer team being eliminated in the first round of CCS after going undefeated during the regular season. The varsity baseball team (3-2, 0-0) has experienced heartbreak in the early rounds of CCS during the past three seasons after being the top-seed in the Open division after the regular season, and is determined to break the “first seed curse” during the 2017 season.
Last season, the Vikings finished second in the De Anza League (DAL), only dropping two games, falling short of first place right behind Los Gatos High School.
This year, the way things are going, the Vikings are gearing up again, and hoping to break the pattern.
The Vikings head into league play this week after wrapping up a tough preseason, going 3-2. The team was pummeled by the St. Ignatius Wildcats (3-1, 0-0), out of the West Catholic Athletic league, losing 10-3, but were able to bounce back and beat three teams from the Peninsula League. The Vikings also took a hard blow to the Pioneer Mustangs (3-3, 0-0) in extra innings, losing 8-2.
According to junior shortstop Max Jung-Goldberg, who verbally committed to play Division I baseball at the University of San Diego, the team has had some bad breaks but need to play its game.
“Getting quality wins in the preseason is great for our team,” Jung-Goldberg said. “We are able to identify our strengths and weaknesses so we can adjust before league starts. With league coming up soon, we have to stay even-keeled. We can’t get too low when we lose or too high when we win. If we can do that I think we have a great shot of contending in league and CCS.”
This year a strong group of returners will carry the Vikings. Jung-Goldberg, a starter since freshman year, led the team with a .354 batting average last season, senior center fielder Ben Cleasby led the DAL with 26 RBIs and senior Ryan Chang is the top returning pitcher after going 5-1 on the season.
“We had great senior leadership last year that will be missed but we have a good senior class this year that are team oriented guys and ultimately just want to win,” Jung-Goldberg said. “We also have a lot of talented juniors that are going to get their chances to play and help our team win.”
As in past seasons, Paly’s toughest league competition will be the Los Gatos Wildcats (4-0-1, 0-0).
“We need to play the game the right way, we need to play against the game not against the other team and we play the same way everyday it doesn’t change,” senior shortstop Michael Champagne said.
According to senior left fielder Angus Stayte, the team ultimately hopes to go deep into postseason.
“Our team goals are to win league, get to CCS open division playoffs and then win CCS,” Stayte said.
“For us to win league and get to CCS our team is going to have pay attention to the small details,” Jung-Goldberg said. “We have to be able to play smart on both sides of the ball and have guys willing to do whatever it takes to win. We have everything we need to succeed this season but it’s going to come down to how much our team wants to compete and compete at a high level.”
The Vikings will face Wilcox High School (3-3, 0-0) this Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. at Paly.