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Emiliano Alarcon played catcher for the Panthers baseball team. He is the Itemizer-Observer's athlete of the year for baseball.

INDEPENDENCE — Emiliano Alarcon had one goal for his final baseball season with the Central High School Panthers: Enjoy it as much as possible.

Alarcon

Alarcon

“Towards the end, I was just enjoying every moment I could with my friends, because I knew it was coming to an end,” he said. “I think we all enjoyed it and just had fun, and that made it a great year.”

Alarcon played a crucial role in the success the Panthers this year, according to head coach Tom Roberts.

“He was a huge leader for us this year and held the team together, and pushed the guys to the state championships,” Roberts said. “He was also one of the best catchers in the state.”

Alarcon said he went into the baseball season planning to play as hard as he could every day to help the team win.

His hard work and leadership paid off.

On June 1, the Panthers became the state champions for the first time since 1958, and clinched the first 5A title since entering the Mid-Willamette Conference. The team made history that night, all the players dog piling each other after the game in celebration.

Winning the state title was “absolutely amazing,” Alarcon said. “Just playing in the last baseball game of the year was something special, and I just wanted to enjoy the championship game because that is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s hard to describe, but in sports there is nothing better than a whole team working every day for something and having it finally pay off in the end.”

Prior to this year, it had been at least a decade since the Panthers made it past the play-in game in the postseason.

About the middle of the season, the Panthers defeated Silverton and Crescent Valley, two teams that, in the past, the Panthers couldn’t get past.

That was the moment when the team knew they had a real chance in the postseason, Alarcon said.

“After the Silverton and Crescent Valley series, we knew we had the lower part of league coming up and that if we played hard, we could win league and be in a great position for playoffs,” he said. “After we finished league, we knew a state title was very possible and that we were capable of winning it all if we didn’t get ahead of ourselves and just played one game at a time.”

Having that mindset was important as he and the team entered the postseason, allowing for an explosive postseason performance, nabbing a 2-0 shutout for the play-in game against Hillsboro, a 6-4 win against La Salle Prep in the quarterfinals, and a 1-0 shutout against Thurston in the semifinals game. That night was Alarcon’s favorite memory.

“It was our last game in our home field with our whole community supporting us, and the most intense game I’ve ever played,” he said. “Eight innings with two pitchers going deep with 15-plus strikeouts each. It was just a crazy game, and whichever team stuck in there and didn’t give up was going to end on top at the end.”

Baseball has been a part of Alarcon’s life since he was 6 or 7.

At first, “I didn’t know anything about it.” Alarcon said. “I loved it, and it was something I wanted to get better at. My dad really helped me get better and always took me to practice.”

He’s been playing baseball ever since, including getting the chance to study abroad in Mexico at a baseball academy for five months last year.

“It was a really awesome experience,” he said, “and I learned so much and had a great time playing baseball every day and working to get better.”

Alarcon is playing for the Post 20 Dirtbags summer baseball team in Monmouth, and in the fall, he’ll head to Linn-Benton Community College to play baseball.

“I am very excited and can’t wait for the next two years,” he said. “I hope to transfer after Linn Benton or go back to Mexico to play baseball.”

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