2022 Paly Varsity Baseball: A Season to Remember

For the Paly varsity baseball team, 2021 was a season to remember. After finishing the regular season 20-4 and capturing the SCVAL league title with a 13-1 record, the Vikings defeated WCAL powerhouse St. Francis in a thrilling first round CCS Open Division win, the first of head coach Pete Fukuhara’s Paly coaching career. However, they ultimately lost a heartbreaker to Valley Christian in the CCS semi finals to end their season. After losing many of a senior-heavy starting lineup, the Vikings have relied on a strong senior core as well as a promising group of underclassmen in their successful 2022 campaign. 

“Going into the year, our mentality was to keep the same energy that we had last year with new parts to our squad,” shortstop Xavier Esquer (‘22) said. 

And keep the same energy they have. Paly won the SCVAL De Anza division title once again this year, finishing the season with a 13-1 league record, as well as winning the SCVAL playoff tournament. In April, they traveled to Sacramento for the prestigious Boras Classic, a tournament showcasing the top high school baseball teams in Northern California, where they finished with a 2-2 record. The Vikings finished the regular season with a 24-5 overall record, undefeated at home, and recently defeated Carlmont 11-10 in their first game of the top division of CCS, winning the game on a walk off hit in front of a huge home crowd. This win automatically qualified Paly for the California state playoffs that will take place next week. With high expectations for a CCS championship and a state championship run as their fuel, the Vikings are set to succeed behind powerful bats, lights-out pitching, and a stifling defense. 

The Vikings have flourished behind great performances from three Power 5 Division 1 commits, Texas commit and top MLB draft prospect Henry Bolte (‘22), Esquer, an Arizona commit, and sophomore Charlie Bates, a Stanford commit. The everyday lineup is filled by many more talented players, with seniors Danny Peters (SF State commit) and Rowan Felsch joining Esquer and Bates in the infield, Zach Hayward (‘22) and Andre Hyrkin (‘22) rounding out the outfield with Bolte in center, senior Dominic De Feo behind the dish, and Zach Thom (‘24) slotting in at both infield and outfield positions. 

“Everyone on our team just tries to do their job,” De Feo said. “Nobody tries to do too much, and we play the best that way.”

This season, Paly has seen success in the forms of double digit shutouts to tense battles going down to the final out, but they have also been no stranger to obstacles. With many players having to miss games here and there due to injury and illness, several role players have had to step up and perform while in the lineup. Luckily, this team is nothing if not deep. Position players Dante Black (‘22), Sal Meehan (‘23) and Russ Filter (‘23) have done a great job filling in when the team is in need, across the board. 

 The Viking pitching, a bit of a concern entering the season, has also been nothing short of remarkable. Led by starters Peters and Sam Papp (‘23), the staff has put together an impressive season so far, stifling opposing hitters and consistently limiting teams to very few runs. Felsch, seniors Josh Donaker and Jack Haight, Tyler Mostofizadeh (‘23), and sophomores Ari Smolar-Eisenberg and Carter Cegielski have also provided effective outings for the Vikings. Despite handling adversity and a few tough losses this season, Paly has found a way to get it done.

“We sometimes fall in holes where if we mess up we get in our heads and pull others down with us, which can take us to a negative place,” Peters said. “It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, pitching comes in clutch.” 

While strong pitching and a dynamic offense have been the keys to Paly’s success this season, a huge reason for their winning ways is the chemistry between teammates, both on and off the field. Everyone on the team is friends with one another, and there exists a strong, supportive, encouraging team dynamic. The team and its coaches are an extremely tight-knit group, all united towards a common goal.

“Our coaches this year have been great,” De Feo said. “They want to win just as much as we do, which pushes everyone even more.”

Leadership is perhaps the biggest key to a team’s success. While the coaches can only do so much to teach the proper fundamentals and game plans, the role of leading and motivating the team falls to the senior class. For Bates, who witnessed last year’s seniors and their impact as the sole freshman on varsity, this year’s seniors have been crucial to establishing a positive team dynamic centered around growth and winning.

“The older guys on the team have done a great job of taking the younger guys under their wing and slowly handing over the torch,” Bates said. 

While the process of passing the torch to the next great Paly baseball team is already underway, the 2022 varsity team is nowhere near done yet. They look to continue their winning ways throughout the rest of CCS and eventually, in the California state playoffs. Through it all, the team will remain firmly committed to the ideal that has propelled them to success all this way: play hard, and play together.