A year ago, the Live Oak High baseball team could only wonder what might have been after failing to close out the top team in the Central Coast Section, St. Francis, in the opening round of the Division I playoffs.
This time, the Acorns slammed the door shut against another West Catholic Athletic League opponent in the same round. Their 7-2 road win over Mitty was every bit as impressive as the final score indicated. Live Oak never trailed and now plays Hollister in the semifinals at Excite Ballpark at 4pm on May 24.
Win or lose, the No. 7 seed Acorns (18-9) have clinched an automatic CIF NorCal Regional playoff berth by virtue of advancing to the Division I semifinals, the top bracket in the CCS. The triumph over Mitty was Live Oak’s first win in three tries in Division I following losses to Los Gatos in 2021 and St. Francis last year, the latter which was particularly painful because the Acorns had a 4-0 lead and were five outs away from advancing only to see St. Francis make a stunning comeback.
“It’s been a long time coming to get a victory in the playoffs against a West Catholic Athletic team and it took a loss last year to make them a little hungry,” Acorns coach Matt Brotherton said. “And they showed up today to win. It was a great team win, with contributions from everyone.”
Especially Ethan Lopez, whose two-run home run in the top of the first inning gave Live Oak exactly what it needed—an early lead before Landon Stump even took the mound.
“Tone setter, it set the tone right away,” Brotherton said. “Him and I had a discussion [the night before the game] about his underperforming offensively. I said there’s still a lot of baseball left.”
Stump went 5 ⅓ innings, allowing eight hits, two runs and striking out six. The UCLA-signee was at his best early, at one point fanning four of five batters bridging the first and second innings. And when Stump’s pitch count got up and Mitty started to threaten, Keenan came in to close things out.
“All year long with those two guys on the mound [with a lead], you’re in a good spot,” Brotherton said. “You almost don’t want to say cruise control, but those guys kind of make it easy when they’re mowing hitters down. … I’ve been doing this for 15 years and I’ve never had one [power conference school D-I signee], and [2 major college arms] and now we have two. Very good fortune.”
Keenan, a Stanford-signee, came in with runners on second and third base with one out in the bottom of the sixth inning. Live Oak elected to intentionally walk Keenan’s first batter and load the bases to set up a potential force play.
The right-hander induced a flare in foul territory in shallow right field that Stump—who was now playing first base—made a nice catch on for the second out. Keenan then induced a fielder’s choice out at second base to get out of the jam.
The ball actually took a tricky bounce and shortstop Michael Volkman did a nice job of staying with the in-between hop before stepping on the bag. Those plays highlighted the Acorns’ defensive prowess against St. Francis, as even earlier in the inning Ryan Roberts—who started at first base—made a nice play to record the assist on a putout.
Lopez, the senior catcher, gunned down a would-be base stealer for the first out in the bottom of the fourth, which set up an even more spectacular play by Keenan later in the inning. Before coming on in relief, Keenan was playing second base.
The Monarchs made it a one-run game and had runners at first and third with two outs when the player at first intentionally wandered far off the bag to draw a throw. The delayed double steal maneuver usually works in the high school game because most teams aren’t adept at either getting the man off first before the baserunner at third scores, and the team on defense usually relents and lets the team up to bat take second uncontested.
However, Keenan and his teammates weren’t going to have any of that. Keenan basically stared down both runners, biding his time before the Mitty player at third went too far off the bag. That’s when Keenan made a beeline to the Mitty player, who eventually got caught in a rundown to end the inning.
That was one of the more pivotal moments of the game because it preserved the lead and Mitty never scored again. Meanwhile, the Acorns put things away with a four-run seventh, highlighted by a two-run single from Dom Pereira which was sandwiched in between RBI singles from Diego Castellanos and Lopez.
One pitch before Castellanos’ hit he fouled off a pitch and looked toward the dugout to say, ‘I’m on it.’ Live Oak batters were hitting the ball on the screws with many of their outs being of the hard-hit variety.
Though the Acorns took a while to find their offense—they were shut out three times and held to one run three other occasions by the midway point of the season—the fact they got eight hits off two of Mitty’s three best pitchers shows they’re dialed in now.
“We have some really talented players and they showed up and got it done,” Brotherton said. “They showed up to win.”
Playoff games are decided by minimizing mistakes and making winning plays. Such was the case in the third inning when Teo Castellanos made a terrific catch in shallow right field to prevent a run from scoring. Keenan also stole a base and Colby Allen utilized his speed to advance an extra base as both players crossed the plate in the seventh.
All Stump has done is win this season, and he got some tough outs in his final two innings when he started to lose a bit of his command. Brotherton and his coaching staff have the Acorns playing at their peak at the perfect time: in the playoffs, where every game is a win or go home situation.
“You would much rather start off slow and finish strong, and I think that’s where we’re at right now and I think it’s working out pretty good for us right now,” Brotherton said.