KEIZER — For the first time since 1958, the Central Panthers baseball team became the 5A Oregon State Athletics Association state champions, capturing the title over the Pendleton Buckaroos by winning 11-4 at Keizer Station Volcano Stadium on June 1.
The Panthers (25-4 overall, 25-2 Mid-Willamette Conference) nabbed a 9-0 lead in the first two innings by securing nine runs off 11 hits.
As the Panthers repeatedly drove the ball into the outfield in the first inning, the Buckaroos’ defense fumbled multiple ground balls, resulting in four Panther runs to start the game.
“Once it started going, we were all synced in, locked in,” said senior Emiliano Alarcon. “Jumping out in front early was really big for our team to really take control.”
Capitalizing on the momentum the Panthers had from the first inning, senior Conner Laeng opened up the second inning by bringing in junior Kyle Holt. Following that run, senior Brendan Lesmeister sliced a hit to left field and loaded the bases. Then, with two consecutive drives to middle field, Alarcon and senior Brandon Lopez both batted in two runners.
While the Panthers were seizing a substantial lead, the Bucks couldn’t find the retaliation they needed to match the Panthers’ offense at-bats. With the Bucks scoring just two runs in the third and fifth innings, the Bucks couldn’t find their footing to rally later in the game.
“I don’t think we ever got content you know,” said head coach Tom Roberts. “I know if you go up nine-nothing it’s easy to take your foot off the gas a little bit and get content. Our guys never got content; we were putting pressure on them.”
Runs in both the third and fifth innings helped the Panthers maintain their lead.
“It really gave us space to just relax,” Alarcon said. “It’s the state championship, we’re all nervous.”
At the top of the seventh inning, with two outs for the Buckaroos in the box and the Panthers up 11-4 on the field, the dugout was cleared as the Panthers lined up on the field in anticipation for the win. With a quick play to first that clinched the third out, the Panthers stormed the field.
“Today we just came out and hit the ball well,” said senior Kaleb Kantola. “We pitched good enough to win, but we hit the ball well, and we haven’t been hitting like that all year.”
The victory caps the Panthers’ 15-game winning streak that began in late April.
“We made history,” Kantola said. “We’ve been putting in this work all year, all off-season and it paid off. Not all teams can do this.”
It’s the first time the Panthers have won since being in the 5A league.
“Feels amazing to put another banner up, first time in 5A, since Central moved up, and it’s pretty special with our group of seniors,” Alarcon said.
A huge group of Panther supporters came out to watch the team make history, and Alarcon said it was huge seeing all the fans cheering every time they made a play. For eight Central players, a victory at state is their farewell to high school baseball.
“I’m just so happy for these guys; they worked extremely hard all four years,” Roberts said. “Seeing them end their high school career on a dogpile is just something else.”