Baseball: Paly fends off Watsonville in first round of CCS playoffs

Edward Mei, Author

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Senior Rohit Ramkumar delivers a pitch in the second inning of Wednesday's CCS first round matchup. Ramkumar allowed four runs in three innings for the Vikings, who went on to beat the Wildcats 12-4.

Senior Rohit Ramkumar delivers a pitch in the second inning of Wednesday’s CCS first round matchup. Ramkumar allowed four runs in three innings for the Vikings, who went on to beat the Wildcats 12-4. Photo by Grant Raffel.

Losing its first three games, winning its next 12 of 13 games and finally losing 10 of its final 13 games, the Palo Alto High School baseball team (17-15) has had a roller coaster season. Yesterday at Paly in the first round of the Central Coast Section Playoffs, the fifth-seeded Vikings ousted the twelfth-seeded Watsonville Wildcatz (17-10), 12-4, in a battle that mirrored their up-and-down season.

Senior right fielder Austin Poore went 4-4 with one RBI and one triple, junior third baseman Bowen Gerould connected on two 2-RBI doubles and the Vikings, after withstanding every Wildcat blow, delivered an eight run knockout punch to advance to the second round of the CCS playoffs.

After losing three of their last four games in the SCVAL playoffs by one run each, Paly’s one major flaw was its inability to close out games. Wednesday afternoon, however, the Vikings were able to finish.

“It’s like our coach always says: you don’t win the game in the first, second and third innings,” Poore said. “It’s when you wear down the pitcher, when you get into their bullpen – innings five, six and seven is when the game is decided.”

Feeding off energy from the crowd and dugout, the underdog Wildcatz jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but Paly exploded with four runs of their own in the second inning to go ahead 4-2.

When the Wildcatz responded with two runs to tie it up at four in the top of the third inning, the Vikings proved calm and collected. Spearheaded by Poore and Gerould, Paly responded with eight unanswered runs in the final four innings to finish a 12-4 romp.

“We got better as the game went along,” Paly head coach Erick Raich said. “That’s what you always want to do. The first four innings set the tone, and the last three innings is where we kind of said we were going to win the game.”

Paly will face the Bellarmine Bells (25-6) in the second round, whose 1-0 escape over the Fremont Firebirds (16-12) was announced over the speaker system just as the final out was secured at George Hurley field.

The Bells defeated the Vikings 1-0 in an early matchup this season, but the revamped Western Catholic Athletic League Champions will likely prove even tougher this time around.

“We’re going to have to prepare for the fast speed of the game,” Raich said. “It’s really simple: throw the ball to the plate, play catch, take care of your responsibility, and you’re going to be tough. When you don’t take care of those things, that’s when you’re in trouble.”

If the Vikings are to make any noise against the Bells, Raich believes the Vikings’ defense must sharpen up.

“Offensively we’ve been good all year,” Raich said. “But we’ve got to clean up our defense. The type of errors we’re making are just frustrating – a strike three and the ball goes by your catcher, a routine base hit and the ball goes under your center fielder’s glove, just those kinds of errors where you know you’re in control and you just have to take care of them.”

Paly started senior pitcher Rohit Ramkumar, who threw for three innings before being relieved by junior pitcher Danny Erlich. After junior pitcher Brian Kannappan made a quick appearance in the top of the sixth, the Vikings closed the game out with junior Chris Smith on the mound.

The Vikings will take on the Bells this Saturday, with the time and place to be determined.

Senior first baseman Rowan Thompson grounds a ball up the middle as the rest of the team looks on from the dugout in Paly's 12-4 win over Watsonville Wednesday.

Senior first baseman Rowan Thompson grounds a ball up the middle as the rest of the team looks on from the dugout in Paly’s 12-4 win over Watsonville Wednesday. Photo by Grant Raffel.