Baseball ends season with 4-2 loss to Valley Christian

Juliana Moraes-Liu, Author

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Shortstop Austin Braff lines a fastball up the middle for a single in the first inning of Paly's CCS semifinal loss against Valley Christian High School. Photo by: Matt Ersted

Shortstop Austin Braff lines a fastball up the middle for a single in the first inning of Paly’s CCS semifinal loss against Valley Christian High School. Photo by: Matt Ersted

The Palo Alto Vikings (27-7) concluded their season with a 4-2 loss to the Valley Christian Warriors (25-8) in extra innings Wednesday in the Central Coast Section Division I baseball semifinal at San Jose Municipal Stadium.

Senior Ben Sneider started for the Vikings and kept them in the lead until giving up two runs in his fifth and final inning.

Senior center fielder B.J. Boyd was the source of most of Paly’s offense, scoring both Viking runs while getting on base in all four of his plate appearances.

Boyd led off the game with a triple off the right field fence and scored the next play when senior second baseman Jack Witte hit an RBI groundout.  Boyd walked in the third, fifth and eighth innings for the Vikings, scoring in the third thanks to a Valley Christian wild pitch and steal of home.

Paly was blanked after the third inning, failing to advance a runner past first base.

“It was a fantastic ball game, and they’re a really quality opponent,” Sneider said of the Warriors.  “All of that team, top to bottom, plays the game hard and plays the game right.”

Head coach Erick Raich added a similar sentiment.

“It’s tough to lose, but in a game like that, all you can do is control what you do, and we played our butts off,” Raich said.

Valley Christian scored two runs in the top of the fifth inning off Sneider and two more in the first extra inning off sophomore Danny Erlich, who had pitched 2.2 solid innings until the Warriors rallied with two outs, including a two-run double.

“I was just going to switch him [Erlich] out before that pitch,” Raich said.  “One of our coaches said ‘Oh, he’s a lefty-on-lefty,’ but it teaches me that I need to go with my gut instinct on stuff.”

Senior John Dickerson, who had been playing left field, relieved Erlich and got the final out, but Paly came up empty in the bottom of the inning.

The Warriors were three-for-three in throwing out runners attempting to steal, as their catcher gunned down Boyd once and Braff twice, stifling any opportunities Paly had. Valley Christian limited the Vikings to just three hits over the course of eight innings.

The Viking defense had its moments, both good and bad. The outfielders played exceptionally well, as Boyd made a diving catch in the second inning. Dickerson matched that in the fourth with a quality grab of his own, saving Sneider and the Vikings.

Perhaps the most important plays came from right fielder Justin Grey during the fifth inning, when he both gunned down a Warrior runner at third base and made a jumping catch to limit the damage at two runs.

However, Paly committed two errors, one from senior third baseman Alec Wong and a costly one from senior shortstop Austin Braff.

“Our outfield made some unbelievable plays,” Raich said.  “But the short out by [Braff] that we didn’t get at second [base], that’s a huge, huge play right there.  But he’s been unbelievable all year. He did a heck of a job.”

A Viking victory would have set up a rematch of last year’s CCS final against San Benito, which won earlier in the day.

Instead, the Warriors of Valley Christian will take on the Haybalers on Saturday at 7 p.m. back at San Jose Municipal.

Meanwhile, Paly will send off its seniors, some of the most successful in school history.  The Vikings advanced to at least the CCS semifinals each of the last three years, including their championship last year.

“That was just a great group of kids,” Raich said of the seniors.  “I’m so sad to see them go.”

Sneider felt the Warriors were the better team throughout the game and earned the win.

“To lose to a quality opponent and to an opponent that flat out out-played us, that’s the way you want to go out,” he said.  “Yeah, it stings, and it will always sting, but hats off to them [Valley Christian] and best of luck to them against San Benito.”