It took the Los Altos High baseball team eight innings and some heroics from one of its quietest batters of the day to defeat Wilcox 4-3 in the Central Coast Section Division I semifinals Thursday at San Jose Municipal Stadium.
Ryan Baum – 0-for-3 before his final at-bat – saved his best for last, hitting a walk-off single to score Max Higareda and send the seventh-seeded Eagles to Saturday’s championship game against No. 1 Westmont (played after the Town Crier’s press deadline).
“All the practice pays off,” said Baum, a sophomore. “I thought (the pitcher’s) glove went up and he almost caught it. Once it gets past him, you know it’s over. Teammates rushing out, crowd roaring – it’s just a great feeling.”
Higareda got the Los Altos rally started by reaching first base on a bunt. Aidan Kelleher’s sacrifice bunt advanced Higareda to second, and the senior scooted to third on a wild pitch. That set the stage for Baum, who came through with the biggest hit of his high school career.
Baum wasn’t the only hero, however. He was quick to credit pitcher Alex Reelfs, who went the distance to earn his third win of the postseason. The 6-foot-5 junior struck out five and allowed six hits and only one earned run on the way to his 10th victory of the year.
“He’s carried our team all year,” Baum said. “Every time he goes out, we trust him and we know that he can do the job. So every time he goes out, we feel that we can win the game handily.”
Reelfs wasn’t going to be available to pitch in the final – “due to pitch-count rules,” according to Eagles coach Gabe Stewart – so Higareda was slated to take the mound Saturday afternoon at San Jose Muni.
After Reelfs kept the Chargers in check in the top of the first, the Eagles’ offense gave him a one-run lead. Ben Parker belted a double that Wilcox’s left fielder had trouble tracking down, then Ryan Buchner hit a single that barely stayed fair to bring home Parker.
The Chargers answered with two runs in the second, which began with Reelfs’ walking Taiga Sato. After a strikeout, Reelfs hit the next batter, and the following batter, Kevin Downey, hit a grounder to third that scored Sato. Jairus Baddo’s squeeze bunt brought home Wilcox’s second run.
Los Altos (20-11-1 overall) got a run back in the bottom of the frame. With one out, Higareda doubled and soon scored on Kelleher’s single, barely beating the throw home from the outfield.
Reelfs received some help from his defense in the third inning. The Eagles’ outfielders twice threw out Wilcox base runners headed home, both tagged out by catcher Keenan Hanley.
The score remained tied at 2 until the sixth. That’s when Wilcox (18-16-0) pulled ahead after Alexander Adame, who had just stolen third on a close call, raced home on a wild pitch.
The Chargers didn’t have much time to enjoy the lead. In the bottom of the sixth, Matt Truscott hit a two-out single to score Zach Espiritu and tie the game once again.
“(Our) seniors – they didn’t want to go home yet,” Stewart said of Los Altos’ resilience.
The Eagles advanced to the CCS final for the first time since 2011, when Monterey beat them 2-1 in the Division II title game. Los Altos’ lone CCS crown came in 2007.
“I know these guys believe in themselves,” Stewart said. “I, for sure, believed in them. I didn’t think the way our league season went (fifth place in the SCVAL De Anza Division) was what they envisioned, but I kept telling them, ‘Guys, we’re playing a really tough battle.’ They have a great opportunity to be champions.”