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Ruben Cedillo hurls a pitch toward Dallas on April 19.

INDEPENDENCE – Despite battling against harsh winds and cold weather, the Central High School Panthers clinched a 5-2 victory on their home field on Tuesday in the first game of the two-game Polk County rivalry series against the Dallas High School Dragons.

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Senior Carter Wesiensee reaches out to tag a Central player as he slides into second base on April 16.

Though it was a victory for the Panthers (10-3 overall, 3-1 Mid-Willamette Valley), not every player was proud of his performance.

“It wasn’t my best performance,” said senior and pitcher Kaleb Kantola, “but our offense helped me out and put runs on the board, helped us win the game.”

Kantola pitched five innings, allowing three hits, three walks, and struck out 11, with one earned run, before sophomore Justin Girod stepped up to the mound for the last two innings. 

Head coach Tom Roberts said that, considering factors like the weather, he was happy with the team’s performance.

“We played good small ball, with it being cold and the wind coming in,” Roberts said. “The ball wasn’t flying, but we found places where players weren’t and scratched some runs across the plate. I thought Kaleb (Kantola) battled out some spots, Justin pitched really well, so our pitching is really gonna keep us in a game liked this. Overall, it was a pretty solid win for us, especially against a rival like Dallas.”

As the team progresses into the regular season, Kantola said he thinks the team is starting out stronger than last year.

“We’ve been winning games, so that’s good,” he said. “Last season, we started off bad, and then we had to pick it up at the end of the year and never got to where we wanted to be, so it feels good to start off good.”

Last year, the team went 13-13 overall, and 7-11 in league.

While this year is starting out better, Roberts thinks there is room to grow.

“We’ve had some ups and downs (so far),” he said. “We can still improve; there are a lot of places we can improve. The mental aspect of the game is still something that we focus on every single day. Overall, we’ve played pretty good. We’ve been facing a lot of good pitching, which is allowing us to prepare for league. We’re not quite where we want to be yet, but we’re getting there.”

Thursday, the Panthers celebrated another victory against their Polk County rivals (6-7 overall, 2-4 MWC), this time taking a 3-2 win under sunny skies.

The game started off slow, going 0-0 until the fourth inning, when junior Trent Cyphers got the team on board by nabbing two RBIs.

Senior Ruben Cedillo, back on the mound after a sore elbow kept him from pitching, struck out six. Sophomore Justin Girod finished out the final three innings.

Cedillo said he was happy with his come-back performance.

“I pitched good; I thought my arm was gonna start hurting earlier in the game, but it didn’t,” he said.

In the seventh inning, the Panthers tacked on another run to their scoreboard, and the Dragons responded with two of their own from Thomas Rocha and Hunter Bennett.

“This was really the first crunch time, last inning where we’d give up a couple and we’re within a run and we need to get out of it and we got two big outs there … and we overcame,” said Roberts. “So, I thought we really showed our true character today, getting out of a spot where we put ourselves in and had to get out of it. And then Ruben pitched really well the first four innings; it’s really nice to have him back on the mound. It really helped us. And then the top of the seventh inning, we scratched a couple across when we needed it. And that was the difference.”

On the Dragons side, head coach Keeton Luther said the Dragon’s lack of energy is something he and the team are trying to work on.

“We’ve had that problem throughout the year so far,” he said. “We’re valuing the last three outs of the game, and throwing away 18. We have to play baseball with 21 outs and give us the chance to apply pressure earlier in the game, rather than deciding ‘oh, we’re gonna play baseball here in the last inning.’ The energy is definitely important to keep up throughout the game. …  We’re playing good baseball but it’s just not quite good enough. We’re getting close, though, and I’m happy with the guys with what they’re doing.”

Wednesday, Silverton travels to Central at 5 p.m., and Dallas hosts South Albany on Wednesday at 5 p.m.

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