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May 14, 2022

Los Gatos and Palo Alto baseball teams play for winning cause in Vs. Cancer Game

Despite getting swept by Central Coast Section power Palo Alto High last week, the Los Gatos High baseball team still controls its destiny to make the playoffs. 

The Wildcats enter the week with a 6-6 record in the Santa Clara Valley League’s De Anza Division, tied with Mountain View and Santa Clara for the final two automatic postseason berths. Palo Alto and second-place Wilcox have locked up two of the league’s four automatic CCS qualifiers.

Los Gatos wraps up the regular-season with a two-game set against Homestead—which is 5-7 in league—on May 4 and 6. 

“Our chances (to make the playoffs) are still good,” Wildcats coach Justin Oliver said. “We’ve got to take care of Homestead and we know that. It’s a big week for us.”

Los Gatos’ April 29 home contest against Palo Alto—a 6-1 loss—along with the program’s junior varsity game at Palo Alto two days earlier represented the Vs. Cancer Game series. 

This was the first time Los Gatos hosted a Vs. Cancer Game fundraiser, a signature campaign of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation. Vs. Cancer proceeds help fund local hospital programs for children battling brain cancer tumors and other cancers, provide financial assistance and critical resources for patient families nationwide, and groundbreaking research to cure pediatric brain tumors. 

“There was a lot of good feedback for the games and Palo Alto coach Pete Fukuhara has been great to deal with and work with,” Oliver said. “Both teams shined some good light, we raised some good money and this will go to somebody, whether it’s family or research studies. I think we’re north of (raising) $7,000 between the two teams, so it was very successful.”

The proceeds from the games went to Vs. Cancer and Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. The 6-1 defeat came two days after a 9-1 loss to the Vikings, who are ranked 17th in the state by MaxPreps. 

“Palo Alto is like playing a WCAL (West Catholic Athletic League) team,” Oliver said. “They’ve got 10 seniors, they’ve got the best player in the state of California (Henry Bolte), a (projected) high first-round (MLB) draft pick in center field. Like I told our guys, minimize mistakes. You can’t make them against teams like this. There’s teams we can and we’ll get out of it, but not against guys like this that can hit up and down the lineup.”

Oliver was referring to the team elevating some pitches and the four errors that led to two unearned runs in the April 29 game.

“Before this we had been playing good defense, and today we just started kicking the ball around,” he said. 

Jaden Mena, the Wildcats’ No. 9 hitter in the lineup, once again put together some quality at-bats. He went 1-for-3, including a 10-pitch at-bat in his first plate appearance in the bottom of the second inning that ended with a line out. The senior left-handed hitter kept on battling in a riveting duel with Palo Alto starter Danny Peters, a San Francisco State commit. 

“Mena is gritty,” Oliver said. “I know other teams play him for slap. You can hear them over there saying he’s a slap hitter. Well, at Palo Alto (on the 27th), he hit it off the wall. And today, we hit and ran with him on a 1-1 count and he just executed. He’s done it all year for us and has been a great surprise.”

Senior pitcher Kaito Haake produced another quality start but ultimately was hooked with the loss. The burly right-hander went 4 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and three earned runs against a powerful Palo Alto lineup. 

“Kaito has pitched against every big team in this conference and the WCAL teams (in non-league),” Oliver said. “It’s tough because he pitched so well and we just didn’t make the plays. That’s been the story of the season for him. He’s doing a great job staying positive and not letting that stuff get to him, but it’s not easy. He’s well deserving and it would be nice to get him something.”

Second baseman Jake Boyd made a terrific defensive play in the top of the first inning, fielding a line-drive grounder in between hops which would’ve eaten up most fielders. However, Boyd got under it before making the throw to first base for the final out of the inning. 

Shortstop Carter Johnstone had the team’s lone extra-base hit, a double with two outs in the bottom of the first inning. He scored moments later on a Nick Temple single.

Carter Johnstone (2) scored the lone Los Gatos run in their 6-1 loss to Palo Alto on April 29. Photo by Jonathan Natividad.

Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]