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No. 4 Centennial softball rallies to beat No. 1 Palo Verde — PHOTOS

Centennial leadoff hitter Valeria Lopez isn’t the most imposing player on the Bulldogs’ roster. But the soft-spoken freshman turned in a ferocious at-bat when Centennial needed it most Monday.

Lopez delivered a two-run single with two outs to highlight Centennial’s seven-run sixth inning, and the Bulldogs, No. 4 in the Review-Journal’s Class 5A rankings, rallied for a 9-4 road win over top-ranked Palo Verde.

“I was getting a little nervous,” Lopez conceded. “But me and Beca (Venzor-Nuno) were talking about being savages. I just thought about doing it for the team.”

Centennial (19-9-1, 3-4 5A Mountain League) trailed 4-0 entering the sixth, but scored all seven runs with two outs to take the lead.

Lopez came to the plate with runners at second and third and quickly fell behind in the count 1-2. But she lined a two-run single to left to make it 5-4, and the Bulldogs added two more runs to take a 7-4 lead over Palo Verde (14-6, 4-3).

“It was good to see ‘V’ coming through there for us,” Centennial coach Mike Livreri said. “A big hit there for a freshman. I almost thought about putting the squeeze on there for her. She’s a good bunter and we had speed on third, but it’s two outs. Thankfully we didn’t.”

The Bulldogs had seen one of their best scoring opportunities go by the wayside in the fifth thanks to a defensive gem by Palo Verde left fielder Alexis Kearnes. Centennial started the inning with a double by Ashley Madonia, and a hit batter put runners at first and second with no outs.

After Lopez popped out, Venzor-Nuno hit a liner to left that looked like it was destined to plate Centennial’s first run. But Kearnes charged and made a diving catch, then doubled Madonia off second to end the inning.

“That was a squander right there, and we get doubled up,” Livreri said. “A little momentum-killer. But they scrap. They found a way. They didn’t quit.”

The sixth-inning rally started with back-to-back bloop singles by Juliana Bosco and Hailey Smith with one out. After a strikeout, Madonia lined a double to left-center field to cut the lead to 4-2.

A hit batter loaded the bases, and a run scored on a passed ball to make it 4-3 and set up Lopez’s heroics.

Venzor-Nuno added an RBI double, and Campbell Cole had an RBI single to make it 7-4.

“Softies dropped in, and we got a few up the middle,” Livreri said. “That’s where we started getting our damage, really, was through the middle.”

The Bulldogs got a pair of insurance runs in the seventh on an RBI double off the center-field fence by Sloane Merrell and a sacrifice fly from Madonia.

That was more than enough for Merrell, who came on in the bottom of the sixth and retired six of the seven batters she faced to get the save. She struck out two and allowed only an infield single.

The comeback win continued a comeback second half of the season for Centennial, which dropped its first four league games.

Centennial, which lost in the state championship game last season, has since won three straight league contests. Those wins have come against third-ranked Coronado, No. 2 Shadow Ridge and now No. 1 Palo Verde.

“We were on the ropes, man,” Livreri said. “And our seniors were taking it to heart. They were taking it hard. It’s been a really tough league this year, but it’s good to see us still fighting.”

Madonia went 3-for-3 with two doubles and three RBIs to lead Centennial, which got two hits apiece from Campbell and Smith.

Mya Bartlett went 2-for-3 with a double, a run and two RBIs for Palo Verde.

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