As the final out was recorded, several Live Oak players stood motionless against the dugout railing as their Los Gatos counterparts celebrated. The anticipation of playing the best of the best gave way to disappointment and melancholy as the Acorns fell 6-4 in eight innings in a Central Coast Section Division I playoff quarterfinal on Saturday.
For No. 4 seed Live Oak—which finished 17-3—nothing can take away from what it accomplished this season. The Acorns were remarkably consistent in every phase of the game and played a top-notch schedule in winning the majority of its games. However, they probably felt like they left some runs out there against the Wildcats, especially in the bottom of the first inning when they had the bases loaded with no outs.
Los Gatos’ Tommy Splaine was having all sorts of command issues, issuing walks to the first three batters. But the 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander somehow got out of the jam relatively unscathed—allowing just one run—in what turned out to be a recurring theme for Live Oak all game. Time and again the Acorns had runners in scoring position only to come up empty or in the innings they did score, feeling like they could’ve had more.
This game had it all, including chirping between the dugouts, a little verbal jousting from opposing sides in the packed stands and thrilling back-and-forth action on the field. The Acorns managed to stay in the game despite being no-hit by Splaine through five complete. Tyler Klopp’s leadoff double in the sixth—Live Oak’s first hit of the game—was one of five the Acorns recorded in the final three innings.
Klopp advanced to third base on Diego Castellanos’ fielder’s choice, and two outs later Cole Wilson walked to load the bases. Josh Elam followed with an infield single RBI, and Castellanos also scored on the play on a Los Gatos throwing error to cut the Acorns’ deficit to 4-3.
Needing a run in the seventh to extend the game into extra innings, Live Oak got it when Castellanos did a nice job of going the other way. His single to shallow left field scored Justin Kester-Johnson, who drew a leadoff walk, stole second and advanced to third on Klopp’s single to right. Kester-Johnson literally gave up his body in the top of the eighth when he slammed head-first into the wall in center trying to track down Jaden Mazzaferro’s deep fly ball.
It went for a triple and scored two runs, accounting for the final margin. His face bloodied, Kester-Johnson had to exit the game but not before stealing two bases and reaching base three times, all via walks. Elam also drew three walks, and catcher Tyler Madden threw out two baserunners trying to steal.
The Acorns went down with their big guns on the mound in Landon Stump and Aidan Keenan. Stump pitched seven innings and Keenan the final one, but on this day even they weren’t good enough to keep the Los Gatos bats at bay. The Wildcats finished with 12 hits and got runners on in six of the eight innings. Their center fielder, Mitch Deering, also robbed P.J. Kissee of a home run in the second. In the end, Los Gatos pitchers Tommy and Michael Splaine—who came on with two outs in the bottom of the sixth—recorded outs in critical situations to strand several baserunners.
Despite the loss, Live Oak showed it was one of the section’s best teams this season by earning a spot in the Division I field (which essentially was the Open Division this year). Even though the Acorns will lose some key seniors off this year’s team, they’ll have plenty of talent returning to make a run for league and CCS championships next year.