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The Paly Voice

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Baseball: Vikings fall to St. Francis in CCS semis, 8-3

In a season full of ups and downs, the Palo Alto High School baseball team (18-16, 11-3) ended its run in the Central Coast Section playoffs with an 8-3 loss in the Division I semifinals to St. Francis High School (29-4, 11-3) Wednesday in San Jose.

St. Francis senior Michael Strem, who threw a perfect game in the Lancers’ first round win, pitched six strong innings to help his team to victory.

For the Vikings, junior Danny Erlich was solid on the mound early but gave up three runs in the third inning and another three in the fourth, building a deficit from which the Vikings could not recover.

Much of the difference in the game was defensive. The Lancers backed up Strem well, making great plays with the glove, while the Vikings committed two errors and misplayed several balls in key moments.

“They took hits away,” Paly head coach Erick Raich said. “We kind of gave hits away.”

The first-seeded Lancers came in as the favorites versus the fourth-seeded Vikings, having won at Paly in February, 3-1.

“We were going to have to play close to a perfect game tonight to upset them,” Raich said. “And it just didn’t happen.”

The Vikings did strike first when senior leftfielder Sean Harvey led off the third inning with a solid single up the middle and came around to score thanks to senior rightfielder Austin Poore’s sacrifice fly.

But the Lancers put up three runs in both the third and fourth to pull ahead by five. After putting men on first and second in the bottom of the fourth, Erlich was pulled in favor of senior Rohit Ramkumar. Following a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, Ramkumar got an out on a sacrifice fly, but a two-run, two-out double made it 6-1.

Paly pulled within 6-3 in the top of the sixth as senior shortstop Michael Strong drew a two-out walk, igniting a rally. Junior second baseman Jack Cleasby, senior first baseman Rowan Thompson and junior catcher Austin Kron followed up with consecutive singles.

But St. Francis answered with two runs of its own in the bottom of the sixth off of junior pitcher Chris Smith, increasing its lead to five runs. The Vikings could not get anything going in the top of the seventh and that was the end for Paly.

The loss gave Raich an opportunity to reflect on the season.

“This group flat out overachieved and squeezed everything they could out of themselves ability-wise,” Raich said. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group.”

Paly’s lineup this year had seen limited playing time in years past thanks to a couple strong senior classes, so the Vikings were largely inexperienced despite being on the older side.

“We played like a young team but we weren’t really a young team,” Raich said. “We lost a lot of games like a young team would. We had a good amount of seniors but we didn’t return one mainstay starter.”

Paly played a difficult non-league schedule but hit its groove during league play, which senior centerfielder James Foug feels carried over in the Vikings’ playoff run.

“I think our postseason achievement in CCS showed what our team capability was,” Foug said.

This is the fourth consecutive year in which Palo Alto won the regular season league title and advanced to at least the CCS semifinals. The Vikings lost in the Division II final in 2010, won Division I in 2011 and lost in the Division I semifinals last year and this year.

While many of the Viking starters will graduate, some important parts of the team will remain, including Erlich.

“I think our defense is the key to our success,” Erlich said. “Our young guys are going to have to step up again like this year. No one expected us to get far like we did this year. So we’re just going to have to work hard and see what happens.”

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