Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
St. Francis High’s Champi Lucca, right, greets Kort Peterson after they scored runs in the third inning of last week’s CCS baseball semifinals. Hunter Simmons, back, celebrates the play.
One week after throwing a perfect game in the opening round of the Central Coast Section Division I baseball playoffs, St. Francis High right-hander Michael Strem let his bat do some of the work in the semifinals.
Strem drove in five runs and allowed three over his six innings on the mound, leading the top-seeded Lancers to an 8-3 win over No. 5 Palo Alto May 22 at San Jose’s Municipal Stadium.
St. Francis advanced to the final for the first time since 2001. The Lancers (29-4) were slated to face No. 2 Serra (27-6) in Saturday’s title game, played after the Town Crier’s press deadline.
“Getting the opportunity to play on the last day (of the season) is something I’ve never had an opportunity to do – and something I’ve wanted to do since I’ve been here,” said Mike Oakland, in his seventh year as St. Francis coach.
Strem helped Oakland realize that dream by notching a pair of two-run base hits in consecutive innings against Paly (18-16), providing the Lancers with a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
On the hill, the Boston College-bound hurler limited Paly to five hits and three earned runs. He struck out seven and walked two on the way to the win.
“He’s done everything for us – he’s hit, he’s fielded, he’s pitched,” Oakland said of the senior. “We wouldn’t be anywhere in the ballpark where we are right now if it wasn’t for him.”
Strem’s timely hitting – and some shaky defense by Paly – helped St. Francis gain a five-run lead after trailing 1-0.
Lancers second baseman Champi Lucca found himself on second base after shortstop Michael Strong fielded his grounder and threw wildly to first to start the bottom of the third. After a walk and a sacrifice bunt, Strem belted a double that scored both runners and gave St. Francis a 2-1 advantage. The Lancers added another run when Strem scored on a two-out single by first baseman Mark Cardinalli.
“I think they were just more athletic,” Paly coach Erick Raich said of St. Francis. “The speed of the game looked a little fast for our guys … we were going to have to play as close to a flawless game as possible to beat those guys.”
The Lancers added three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Leftfielder Austin Guibor’s sacrifice fly with the bases loaded drove in the first run and Strem brought in the other two with a single that put St. Francis up 6-1.
Strem added his third hit – and fifth RBI – in the bottom of the sixth with a one-out single scoring centerfielder Kort Peterson. Guibor contributed an RBI single to open the frame.
Meanwhile, Strem cruised through Paly’s batting order in the middle innings after allowing Austin Poore’s run-scoring sacrifice fly in the third. Strem retired eight out of nine batters before running into trouble with two away in the sixth.
After opening the frame with consecutive strikeouts, Strem walked Strong and allowed back-to-back-to-back singles by Jack Cleasby, Rowen Thompson and Austin Kron that plated two runs and cut the Lancers’ lead to 6-3. But Strem escaped the inning by striking out Sean Harvey.
“I was comfortable,” Oakland said of leaving Strem in the game to finish the sixth. “He was throwing strikes. It wasn’t like he was walking guys … sooner or later they’re going to hit one and we’re going to catch it.”
Right-hander Tyler Deason closed out the game for Strem by throwing a spotless seventh.