Pitch a shutout, slug a grand slam: All in a day’s work for Palo Alto’s Ritter Amsbaugh in CCS win over St. Francis

PALO ALTO — Ritter Amsbaugh began the day by striking out the first St. Francis hitter to come to plate. It ended, for all intents and purposes, when Amsbaugh slugged a grand slam over the left field fence to complete Palo Alto’s eight-run rally in the third inning of this CCS Open quarterfinal.

The Vikings’ eight runs — all scored in a third inning in which 11 batters came to plate — were more than enough to back up Amsbaugh’s seven shutout innings on the mound, delivering Paly its first win in a CCS Open tournament since 2014.

“I was nervous. I’ll be honest. This was the biggest game I’ve ever played in,” Amsbaugh said after the 8-0 win, setting up a semifinal against No. 3 Valley Christian. “I knew if I stuck to my low, outside fastball and was able to get my curve over, I could get anyone out.”

Amsbaugh recorded all 21 outs on the mound while allowing four hits and striking out eight without issuing a walk.

Before the senior took the hill, he delivered a speech to his teammates in pregame warmups emphasizing the history at stake that afternoon.

“I said we’re not just playing for this team but we’re playing for all the Paly teams that fell short. We’ve got to put all seven teams on our back and win for them, too,” Amsbaugh recalled.

The COVID-19 pandemic took away the Vikings’ season last spring. Nobody on the roster, including coach Pete Fukuhara, had won a CCS playoff game before Saturday.

The Vikings had earned the top seed in 2016 and 2017 but were bounced in the first round each year. In their last trip to CCS, in 2019, Valley Christian delivered an opening-round defeat, an ending to Amsbaugh’s sophomore year he described as a “huge letdown.”

“Our team probably would’ve had some wins if we had played down in Division I or Division II, but we’ve played in the Open every single year I’ve coached here,” said Fukuhara, who has coached Paly to a 135-48 record in seven seasons.

Fukuhara called Amsbaugh’s duel performance on the mound and at the plate, “one of the best single performances we’ve had out of a player in my coaching days.”

St. Francis didn’t get a runner any closer than second base in seven innings against Amsbaugh.

“You can’t get much better out of a player than that,” Fukuhara said.

A day earlier, Amsbaugh ended his batting-practice session with an auspicious long ball — a rarity, he said. Prior to Saturday, he had left the yard once before this spring.

Amsbaugh led off the bottom of the third with a single and eventually came around to score the Vikings’ first run that inning.

Between Amsbaugh’s single and his grand slam, St. Francis committed an error in left field, allowed a runner to reach first after a strikeout and a passed ball, issued a walk and hit another batter.

With a 2-1 count and the bases juiced, Amsbaugh barreled up a pitch and sent it over the left-field fence.

“Twenty feet before first base, the helmet was off and I was screaming because I knew it was gone,” Amsbaugh said. “The hits just compound; once one guy gets a hit, it’s so easy to get more and more hits. Added with a couple walks, we feel unstoppable, and that’s kind of what we are.”

The Vikings will put that attitude to the test Wednesday in the semifinals against No. 3 Valley Christian, which romped to an opening-round win over Aptos. It was the Warriors who bounced Paly in the first round in 2019.

“I hope it’s them,” Fukuhara said. “Valley’s beaten us quite a bit in CCS. We’ve played at their place; we’ve played at a neutral site. I’m looking forward to have them come in here.”

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Author: Evan Webeck

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