The Palisades High baseball team came within inches of extending its remarkable run in the City Section Division I playoffs Tuesday afternoon at USC’s Dedeaux Field.
The Dolphins trailed Chatsworth 3-2 with one out in the top of the seventh inning when Zach Liebenson dropped a safety squeeze bunt down the first base line. Chatsworth pitcher Tommy Palomera fielded the ball but threw high and wide of first base, forcing Garrett Kueber to reach into foul territory to catch it. Kueber’s foot appeared to be coming off the bag as Liebenson arrived, but the Chancellors’ second baseman alertly threw to home just in time for catcher Jake Ryan to tag out a sliding Josh Holmes, who was trying to score from third, to complete a 1-4-2 double play that ended the game — and the Dolphins’ season.
There was confusion on the field as players and coaches on both sides wondered if the play would stand. The umpires conferred and upheld the “out” call at first, sending Chatsworth to Saturday’s championship game at Dodger Stadium. The fifth-seeded Chancellors (28-5-1) will face West Valley League rival Birmingham, which upset No. 2-seeded Narbonne, 3-1, in Tuesday’s second semifinal.
“It was a great game, but there were a few plays that went against us,” Pali High Coach Mike Voelkel said. “Josh made an aggressive play and it didn’t work out. As for the call at first, I didn’t really see it, but my coaches were telling me his foot was off the bag.”
For most of the game it appeared fortune was in the Dolphins’ dugout. Starter Cade Hulse pitched his way out of two bases-loaded jams and aided his own cause in the third with a triple to right-center that scored Jed Moscot. Hulse came home on Harrison McElroy’s groundout to second and Pali High led 2-0. The Chancellors got a run back in the bottom of the inning when Tyler Ryan drew a bases-loaded walk and Jeryd Reuss got a game-tying single in the fifth.
Moscot relieved Hulse in the sixth and, with one out, Kueber doubled to left and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Sam Shaikin flied to Liebenson in right-center and Kueber tagged up and sprinted for home, sliding under the tag of Dolphins catcher Joseph Fasano to give Chatsworth the lead. The ninth-seeded Dolphins were trying to beat their third straight San Fernando Valley team. They upset No. 8 Sylmar, 5-4, in the first round and No. 1 El Camino Real, 4-0, in the quarterfinals.
“Cade’s been in those situations before and he’s shown in the past that he knows what to do,” Voelkel said of his senior starter, one of this year’s Palisadian-Post Cup Award winners. “He dropped some in velocity later in the game but when that happened he actually located his pitches even better. Cade was Pitcher of the Year in our league and I’ll take my chances with him any day.”
Holmes hustled up the line to lead off the top of the seventh with an infield single to third and Fasano’s sacrifice bunt moved Holmes into scoring position. Julian Hart followed with a single to left to put runners on the corners with one out, setting up the controversial ending.
“I’m really proud of this team and I like where our program is headed,” Voelkel said. “That’s one of the top programs in America and we were right there with them. We got quality pitching, we executed at the plate and we ended the season strong. That’s what you always want to do.”
Palisades (18-13) was seeking its third trip to the City’s upper division championship game. The Dolphins lost to Cleveland, 11-0, in 1982 and lost to Kennedy, 4-3, in the 4A final in 1989. Tuesday marked the Dolphins’ first semifinal appearance since an 11-1 loss to Chatsworth in 2007 under previous head coach Tom Seyler.
— Steve Galluzzo
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