Baseball Season Recap: the return of the first-seed curse

    The Palo Alto High School baseball team will graduate six seniors after a successful season cut short by an early CCS loss. Photo by David Hickey.

    The Palo Alto High School baseball team will graduate six seniors after a successful season cut short by an early CCS loss. Photo: David Hickey.

    After boasting an outstanding overall record (25-7, 13-1), clinching the De Anza League title and winning the Santa Clara Valley Athletic League championship, the Palo Alto High School baseball team faced a similar fate when its season was cut short in a heartbreaking, 1-0, loss against the Archbishop Mitty High School Monarchs (16-12-1, 4-9-1) in the first round of the Central Coast Section playoffs.

    Although Paly held the first seed, it suffered a tough first round of CCS, facing Archbishop Mitty out of the West Catholic Athletic League. Mitty held a lower seed because of its league’s stronger teams.

    A rally in the bottom of the seventh inning seemed promising for the Vikings, as a leadoff single from senior left fielder Angus Stayte gave the Vikings life. Junior catcher Nathan Willis then advanced Stayte into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. However, the rally was cut short by a strikeout and popup that ended the game for Paly.

    Mitty Senior pitcher Aidan Goicovich threw seven strong innings against the Vikings, topping out around 88 mph on fastballs.

    Vikings senior shortstop Ethan Stern expressed his satisfaction with the team’s performance, despite losing in the first round of CCS and not scoring a run in CCS for the past three years.

    “Regardless of our loss, we did have a great year,” Stern said. “This is the first time in a while where we were league champions without sharing the title with another team. So that was a great feat. But at the same time, it is bittersweet because every year we find ourselves choking.”

    Despite this early CCS exit, the Vikings had a successful regular season and clinched the DAL with four games before the end of the league season. The Vikings shared the DAL title with Los Gatos High School after the 2016 season.

    “Although we didn’t get very far in the playoffs, winning league was a great feat,” senior center fielder Ben Cleasby said. “We had a very strong regular season and I couldn’t be more proud of the boys.”

    The Vikings went on to win the SCVAL championship and entered the CCS Open division tournament with the first seed.

    According to junior second baseman Max Jung-Goldberg, the CCS loss did not reflect the team’s season as a whole.

    “I’m really proud of our teams effort, heart, and attitude for this whole year,” Jung-Goldberg said. “We worked hard every single day to make sure we were getting better and improving as a team. This was a really special group of individuals who always had each other’s back and were team oriented.”

    Paly had undeniable team chemistry and every player prioritized team success over individual success, according to senior center fielder Ben Cleasby.

    “Throughout the entire season, it was the next man up,” Cleasby said. “We had so many different guys step up and that played a major part in our success.”

    The Vikings will graduate six seniors while retaining a junior-heavy roster.

    “The senior class this year was an amazing group of guys that had determination, heart and provided leadership for the younger guys on our team,” Jung-Goldberg said. “I credit them for our team’s success this year because of how diligent they were the whole year. Next year it’s simply going to be about the class of 2018 senior class stepping up and attempting to do what this senior class did for us this year. There is a lot of talented guys who are going to return next year so all it will come down to is the work we put in during the offseason and making sure we come ready to go when the season comes around next spring.”

    Senior pitchers Aron Ecoff and Ryan Chang both had solid seasons on the mound, with Ecoff earning eight wins on the season with a 1.67 ERA and 42 strikeouts, and Chang adding six wins with a 1.88 ERA and 46 strikeouts.

    “We had a great season,” Chang said. “Even though it didn’t end the way we wanted, I am so proud of this team. Every day with this team was an absolute blast.”

    According to Jung-Goldberg, practices for the 2018 season will start in December, but the team needs to start preparing now.

    “Our returners need to get bigger, faster, stronger, and in better shape,” Jung-Goldberg said. “We aspire to be the best team in CCS and our goals weren’t met this year. We are going to do everything in our power to change that next year.”

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