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Palo Verde bounces back to win 5A state baseball title — PHOTOS

Updated May 18, 2024 - 5:52 pm

Palo Verde baseball coach Dustin Romero said he didn’t expect his team would clinch the Class 5A state championship with a dominant, shutout performance Saturday.

Especially given how the day started.

Palo Verde lost in the morning to Reno High 10-3. But it had another opportunity to win the title since it was the team’s first loss in the double-elimination state tournament.

The Panthers didn’t waste their second chance. The South’s No. 1 seed rolled to a 7-0 victory against Northern champion and No. 1-seeded Reno in the afternoon to win the state title at Bishop Gorman.

“They were never flustered after the first game,” Romero said. “They ate some sandwiches and they were ready to go. … Did I expect a 7-0 game? No. But I expected them to play well.”

The title was Palo Verde’s second in baseball. It won the 4A championship in 2018.

“All I told them was, ‘Flush (the first game) and get rid of it,’ ” Romero said. “I told them, ‘If we told you guys back in January when we first met that we’d have one game for the state championship, would we all be in?’ They all said, ‘We’re in.’ So I said, ‘Let’s go take it.’ ”

Starter Hayden Lucibello gave Palo Verde (28-11) a strong outing on the mound. The junior left-hander fired a shutout on 68 pitches. He allowed three Reno hitters to reach base on one hit and two hit batters.

“It feels great,” said Lucibello, who credited his defense for making his job easier. “We all met up and said our goal from the beginning was to make state and win it.”

Lucibello had plenty of offensive support. Eight Palo Verde batters reached base, six scored runs and five recorded at least one RBI. Luke Herrera and Barrett Johnson each recorded two RBIs for the Panthers.

“I don’t know what clicked today,” said third baseman Drew Kaplan, who went 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. “We were all tired, but the energy we had was insane. We were all able to pick each other up and go crazy for one another one last time. It was great to see.”

‘Had more energy’

Kaplan led off the second inning with his first of three singles. Catcher Connor Rosinski followed with a deep double to center field that scored Kaplan. Johnson added a two-run single later in the inning to put the Panthers ahead 3-0 in the second game.

Palo Verde extended its lead in the fifth. Herrera’s two-run double capped off a four-run inning.

“We had more energy and we just felt like we wanted it more,” Kaplan said. “That just wore on everybody. Once we had the energy and saw (Reno) down, we knew we had it.”

In the first game, Reno (28-11) scored in the first inning and added two more runs in the fifth. The Huskies exploded for seven runs in the seventh inning to force the second game. The loss snapped Palo Verde’s 12-game winning streak heading into Saturday.

“We wanted to leave it all out there (in the second game),” Kaplan said. “This is the last time we’re going to be a squad. We went this far, so why not go win it out?”

‘A true team’

Romero became Palo Verde’s coach at the end of last season. For the senior class, he was their fourth coach in four years.

Romero “always believed in us and that made everybody believe in each other,” Kaplan said. “We always had the talent, but we didn’t always know how to play. This year, we learned how to play winning baseball and how to win for each other and be a true team.”

Palo Verde didn’t let a pair of injuries derail its season. It lost starting catcher Brady Dallimore, a Texas Christian commit and the team’s leading hitter (.565), to a season-ending leg injury last month. Starting shortstop Ethan Clauss, a Texas A&M commit, missed time with a wrist injury.

But the Panthers found ways to win despite being short-handed. With the help of strong starting pitching, solid defense, and contributions from their entire lineup, the Panthers clicked at the right time to emerge out of the wide-open 5A playoffs with the Southern Region and state titles.

“It puts our name on the board again as state champs in this city,” Romero said. “In this city, there’s very, very great teams and now we can say we’re one of them. We hit another goal. I’m proud of these kids, especially the seniors since they’ve been through a lot. It’s huge to do this and all the credit goes to our kids.”

Contact Alex Wright at awright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AlexWright1028 on X.

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