It was a picture perfect day for baseball at San Jose Municipal Stadium on Thursday, where the Los Altos Eagles would soar past the Wilcox Chargers and into the CCS Division I championship. The semi-final battle between the two De Anza League rivals came as advertised. Earlier this season the two schools split a pair of hotly-contested league games, with Wilcox winning 11-10 in nine innings on March 22 and Los Altos winning the very next day, 2-0. The playoff edition of this matchup was no different. The Eagles snuck past the Chargers by a single feather with a walk-off single in the bottom of the eighth to win, 4-3.
Wilcox received yet another strong performance by senior pitcher Taiga Sato who did the best he could to keep the Eagles grounded. Despite admittedly not having his best stuff, Sato held Los Altos to just three runs in seven innings. And if not for a questionable call at home plate in the third, the Chargers might have been in position to win the game, 4-3.
“We had some unfortunate calls, but that’s baseball, that’s life,” noted Sato after the game. “You just have to get over it. The team did great, I was glad I was able to pitch this game.”
With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the third, the Chargers looked to take a 3-2 lead. After freshman shortstop Paul Rosa led the inning with a bunt single, sophomore first baseman Alex Adame drove a one-out double over the right fielder’s head. Rosa attempted to score all the way from first and appeared to slide home safely under the tag, but he was called out at the plate. It was unclear why two umpires were both standing about halfway up each base line from home plate. The umpires looked at each other as if uncertain who should make the call. Neither umpire was in the ideal position behind home plate to have the best view of the play.
Later in that same inning, Adame would also be thrown out at home plate after a single to the outfield. While Adame was clearly tagged out in time, you got the feeling that having two runners thrown out at home might come back to haunt the Chargers. However, Wilcox would eventually find that 3-2 lead they were looking for. Sato led off the top of the sixth inning with a double down the left field line that bounced just past the diving third baseman. The senior would then steal third and score the go-ahead run on a wild pitch.
“The pitch I got the double off of was offspeed, I believe it was more like a knuckleball movement,” recalled Sato. “That at bat I was just not going to let myself make an out. I knew I could hit that guy. That tenacity, my mindset, that really helped me get on base there.”
In the bottom of the sixth, Sato nearly escaped a two-on and nobody-out jam with the 3-2 lead intact. After a leadoff walk and subsequent single, Sato induced the next two batters to hit measly pop flys to the outfield. The next hitter though would lace a single into right center field, knocking in the tying run.
After a scoreless seventh, the game would reach its conclusion in the eighth. With a runner on third and only one out, the Eagles walked off on a solid single to center field. The final pitch came in a 3-1 count. Perhaps Chargers Head Coach David Currie thought about walking the batter to set up the force?
“We definitely thought about walking him there. We obviously talked about it,” confirmed Currie. “Thought about walking him, but then I’m not going to play the infield back and try to turn two.”
Obviously losing in the semifinal wasn’t the way the Charges hoped their season would end, but the young squad came a long way from the start of the year. Wilcox lost five of six games early on in the season, which included losing their first three league games.
However, after a strong finish to the season and terrific playoff run, Currie praised his team.
“They matured really quickly. Even more than just the CCS run. We had some do or die games toward the end of the year. I would say the last month and a half they really put things together quickly. They were playing as good as anybody. That’s what I was telling them in our talk just now. Disappointing to lose, but you have to think about how far we came. We came together as a team, fought through a lot of adversity. That’s the main thing I think they should take away from this season. They didn’t get a championship, but they did a great job.”