George Watkins: Hit or miss for Palma and P.G.

George Watkins: Hit or miss for Palma and P.G.

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George Watkins: Hit or miss for Palma and P.G.

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It’ll be hit or miss tonight at the Central Coast Section Division III baseball playoffs at San Jose Municipal Stadium.

Pacific Grove High will try to continue its ride to history, and a school that knows a thing or two about history — that being Palma High — could be the only team standing between the Breakers and a perfect season should the two schools prevail in semifinal games tonight.

“A lot of our guys are really good friends with Palma players,” Pacific Grove coach Gil Ruiz said. “I’m sure they talk a lot. But it’s all done as friends.”

The two semifinal winners clash Saturday at San Jose Muni in the title game.

Ironically, the last team to beat Pacific Grove is the team it’s playing at 4 p.m. in the first of the D-III double-header. The Breakers have won 36 in a row since losing to Stevenson School on May 2, 2012.

Even though Stevenson, seeded No. 14 in the 16-team bracket, is 0-3 against Pacific Grove this year and has been out-scored 25-4, strange things have been known to happen in the D-III tournament. Three years ago Hillsdale was a No. 16 seed and reached the title game before losing.

Also, Stevenson coach Paul Wilcox began his coaching career at Pacific Grove.

He was head coach there from 1987 through 1991 before taking over the Stevenson program in 1994.

Wilcox is just one of six Monterey County coaches to win more than 200 games in the last 25 years. His total of 275 is third only to Michael Groves of Monterey — the runaway leader with 655 wins — and former Carmel coach, Mike Kelly, with 337. The other three are former North County coach Tim Gower (254), Salinas High coach Art Hunsdorfer (253) and former Pacific Grove coach, Jeff Gray (238).

Following the Pacific Grove-Stevenson contest is the Palma-Menlo School game. Both Palma and Menlo have incredibly successful and perennially strong athletic programs.

Menlo is trying to reach the D-III championship game in baseball for the fourth year in a row, Palma is trying to reach the finals for the second time in five years.

The Palma basketball team beat Menlo in the D-IV title game in 2007, Menlo beat Palma in the D-IV championship game 2008.

Menlo reached the D-IV football title game in 2012 and 2009, and Palma, of course, is either winning or contending for a CCS title almost annually in football.

Palma has three players on this year’s roster to have earned baseball scholarships — Cameron Neff (St. Mary’s), Jack Ross (Pepperdine) and Chuck Byers (Chico State). Menlo has sent six baseball players to Stanford since Craig Schoof has been coach — two have been named Diekroeger — and another is probably on the way. Junior Mikey Diekroeger is hitting better than .390.

Pacific Grove has had a baseball season unlike any Monterey County high school, and should it win out, it’ll have a season unlike any school in the CCS — an area that stretches from San Francisco to King City and includes 107 schools with baseball programs, according to the CCS website.

No CCS baseball team has gone through an entire season undefeated since the playoff system was put in place in 1967.

And if this Pacific Grove team can’t do it, who’s to say another won’t be far behind. The Breaker freshman team went 18-0 in league, 25-2 overall, and is already being compared to this year’s varsity squad.

And all the Breakers have done this year is throw 13 shutouts, including six in a row and seven of their last eight; have allowed four or more runs in just four of their 29 games and haven’t so much as trailed in a game for the past 73 consecutive innings.

Their three starting pitchers — Chris Clements, Wes Carswell and Kevin Teskey — combined for 97 innings of MTAL pitching, allowed 64 hits and 13 runs for a collective ERA of 0.93. Then along comes Conyal Cody, unable to start a game until just a couple of weeks ago, and all he does is throw a one-hit shutout over Soledad with 13 strikeouts, then fires a two-hit shutout Saturday with 11 strikeouts against Sacred Heart Prep in the D-III quarterfinal game.

“It all develops out of our youth leagues,” Ruiz said. “From there we work on fundamentals and the mechanics of pitching. The players do a lot of work on their own. They’re always working on their game.”

Not only has Pacific Grove thrived without one of its key pitchers for most of the season, but as much as anything they’ve done it without shortstop Kyle Czaplak, the third leading hitter in the MTAL in 2012, who earned a baseball scholarship to Santa Clara University. He has missed his entire senior season after having surgery on both hips.

“He’s been out only physically,’ Ruiz said. “Mentally, he’s still our leader. He’s constantly talking to the coaches.”

Even better, he was taking ground balls during pre-game drills last Saturday prior to the quarterfinal game at Sacred Heart Prep.

“He’ll be ready to play for Santa Clara,” Ruiz said.

It’s been that kind of season for the Breakers.

George Watkins is a sports writer for The Salinas Californian. He can be reached at gwatkins@thecalifornian.com and at 754-4264. He can also be followed on Twitter at watkins_salnews.

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