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COMMENTARY: Centennial softball not ready for sun to set

The message was simple: You are not invincible. You can lose at this stage of the playoffs. It happens.

Be angry. Get ticked off.

Go home, chill out, come back and win a game.

Mike Livreri owns the sort of problem most coaches desire and yet never realize, the idea that his Centennial High softball team has won so much, has reached so many levels of success, has produced a program all others chase locally each spring, discovering ways to motivate his players has become a difficult task.

Until they lose.

“They’re still hungry,” said Livreri, now sitting on 303 career victories. “They don’t want this to end, because if it does, it will be very emotional. This has been a really special group.”

The Sunset Region tournament will be decided at Bishop Gorman today, and anyone who hasn’t believed all season that Centennial and Palo Verde would meet to see which advances to the state tournament hasn’t been paying close or, well, any attention.

The matchup was secured when Centennial eliminated Gorman 5-2 on Friday on the Gaels’ home field, moving the Bulldogs into today’s noon final against rival Palo Verde.

The same Palo Verde that beat Centennial 4-3 on Thursday.

The same Palo Verde that Livreri’s team must defeat twice today if it is to have an opportunity next week at winning a third straight state championship.

Livreri is a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, so his attempt at painting Centennial as the underdog in today’s final, while an amusing and staunch effort, doesn’t fly.

His is the only Southern Nevada team to win consecutive state titles in the largest classification, and the Bulldogs are still led by two of the finest players in Nevada history, a left side of third baseman Savannah Horvath and shortstop Heather Bowen, each four-year starters and bound for Division I programs, each offering a resume that includes the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, each as good at their positions as this state has known in some time.

This, too, is how it has been lately for local prep softball: Centennial, Palo Verde and everyone else.

“Honestly, the rivalry between us (and Palo Verde) has been healthy at times and not healthy at others,” said Horvath, who will play at Cal State Northridge next year. “A lot of us between the teams play travel ball together, but when it comes this time, we’re not associated with them in the least. We still haven’t gotten over losing to them (Thursday). They’re the team standing in our way, and that’s not OK with us. We’re coming out with a vengeance. They beat us and put us in the position where we need to (win twice).”

Softball locally has improved annually at every level, with no better example from Friday’s action as Gorman, where ninth-year coach Kevin Smith has done a fantastic job building a program from nothing. This was just the second season in which the Gaels fielded a junior varsity team. It’s true — while it might dominate in football and basketball, not every Gorman team racks up championships.

Not every blue and orange side dominates.

“Basketball players, cheerleaders, volleyball players, track athletes, you name it and we have had those kids play softball for us,” said Smith, whose team eliminated Arbor View 4-2 on Friday and thus clinched Gorman’s best finish in the playoffs. “Some of our JV kids still have never played the game before getting here. That was the fun part of building it.

“But it has been tough. The difference between teams like Centennial and Palo Verde (and other teams) is the mindset. They have players who have been to this level, who know what to expect, who treat it as routine.”

It will be intense today. Centennial and Palo Verde don’t do casual when meeting in anything.

Good. Rivalries, when approached properly, bring out the best in everyone.

And these are the two best teams.

And they have the best players.

This is how it was always going to be this season. This is how it should be.

“I think it’s best this way,” said Bowen, who will attend Utah. “We’re trying to leave our legacy, trying to give our younger players things to shoot for and records to break, trying to show them how it’s done at this level.

“We’re ready. We didn’t know or expect or ask for any opponent, but I knew it would come down to us and (Palo Verde). All season, all we have heard is they are the favorites, they’re supposed to win it all, they have the seniors, they didn’t lose as many players as we did from last year.

“Hopefully, we get to face them twice. We’re the underdogs.”

Yeah, and LeBron James still needs to prove he’s pretty good at basketball.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.

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