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STATE BASEBALL: Bulldogs glad they didn’t bail

Centennial’s veteran baseball players reached a crossroads pretty early in the season.

The Bulldogs were struggling with a 5-6 record, and it was time to make a decision. One choice would lead down a path that was familiar, but not desirable: missing the playoffs.

But the players chose the other path, and Centennial did more than turn it around, winning 20 of its last 25 games, including a 4-0 showing in the Sunset Region tournament to advance to the Division I state tournament, which begins today in Reno.

“We just kind of decided there’s two ways that our season can go,” senior Will Loucks said. “We can not win so much but still try to have fun like we did last year. Or we can have fun because we’re winning. We decided to do that route and give it our all this last go around for baseball.”

The Bulldogs (25-11) play Reno High (33-3) at 7 p.m. today at UNR’s Peccole Park. Sunrise champion Liberty (28-5) plays Damonte Ranch (26-12) in the first game at 4:30 p.m. The double-elimination tournament runs through Saturday.

Centennial’s 2013 team broke a streak of 13 consecutive postseason appearances. But this year’s version of the team wasn’t going to let that happen again.

“I think it’s cool; it’s rewarding,” Loucks said. “After last year, we kind of had something to prove all year. To reach our goals of winning the region and finally making the state tournament kind of makes up for last year.”

The Bulldogs are making their first state appearance since 2005, and are seeking their first title. To get back to state, Centennial had to beat Bishop Gorman twice in the Sunset tournament, ending the Gaels’ streak of eight consecutive state appearances. The Bulldogs also defeated Gorman during the regular season.

“The adrenaline’s kind of gone, but we did something pretty great on Saturday and it feels good to bring that back to the school,” said senior Cooper Powell, who pithed a five-hitter in a 3-1 win over Gorman in the Sunset title game.

“I think we’re on the cusp of something pretty great, and it feels pretty good to be a part of something like this and be a part of something bigger than ourselves.”

Powell (8-1, 2.76 ERA) and Loucks (4-3, 2.17) will have a lot to say about how the state tournament goes for Centennial. Powell threw 11 innings in the region tournament, giving up two runs on 12 hits and picking up two victories. Loucks pitched a complete game in a 4-2 win over Arbor View, striking out 11 and giving up eight hits.

“What’s good about those guys is they give you their best effort when they go out there,” Centennial coach Charlie Cerrone said. “When your senior leader captains do that, it kind of encourages everyone else to do that.”

The Bulldogs also have benefited from the healthy return of shortstop and cleanup hitter Jacob Portaro, who went 6-for-12 with two homers in the region tournament. Portaro broke two knuckles on his throwing hand in the third game of the season, but leads the team with four homers despite only 34 at-bats all season. He has 10 extra-base hits, and also could play a role on the mound at state.

“With him being injured, we developed another bat, developed other arms and now we get him back in the mix, it’s kind of made us deeper and a little stronger,” Cerrone said. “Hopefully that helps us out playing in a three-day tournament.”

And Powell is quietly confident that his team can finish the season on a high note.

“We’re not the strongest team out there, and we’re definitely not the most flashy,” Powell said.

“We’ve just got to stick to our plan and execute. It’s just another couple games. We’re toward the end, and it’s a big stage, but I think everyone’s pretty excited and I think we can really get this done. There’s no doubt in my mind, for sure.”

Contact reporter Damon Seiters at dseiters@reviewjournal.com or (702) 380-4587.

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