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Kaleb Kantola slides across home plate to clinch a run on May 15 against South Albany.

INDEPENDENCE – The Central High School Panthers ended their regular season last week with an 8-3 victory at North Salem (10-14 overall, 7-9 MWC), and 5-1 and 6-1 wins, respectively, against South Albany (8-19 overall, 4-12 MWC) to claim the title of Mid-Willamette Conference league champions.

These wins bump the team’s league record to 14-2, and 21-4 overall as they head into the first round of playoffs today against Hillsboro (14-12 overall, 11-7 Northwest Oregon Conference).

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Brendan Lesmeister winds up for a pitch on the mound on May 15 in the game against South Albany.

Being league champions is a big deal for the Panthers baseball team.

“It feels pretty good,” said senior Brendan Lesmeister. “Just something we’ve always thought about being, and now that its real, it feels good.”

Last year, the Panthers landed in the fifth-place spot in league.

Senior Ruben Cedillo said the difference this year is the team’s attitude.

“We’re for sure all bought in,” he said. “Last year we weren’t all bought in. A lot of the juniors last year didn’t really want to be on field every day and this year, it’s our senior year and we’re giving our all.”

Lesmeister agrees: the team wanted it.

“Wanting to win every game and wanting to be one top, and everyone having that mindset … really helps us,” he said.

On May 13, battling against the Vikings, senior Kaleb Kantola pitched 6 1/3 innings, allowing three runs on four hits and striking out eight. Offensively, Cedillo was two-for-four with two doubles, and senior Brandon Lopez was one-for-four with four RBIs.

May 15, Lesmeister went five innings, allowing zero runs on two hits, and striking out seven. At-bats, Lesmeister was one-for-three, and senior Emiliano Alarcon was one-for-two; both boys picked up an RBI double.

On Friday, Alarcon pitched five innings, allowing one run. Senior Eli Garcia went two-for-four with one RBI and one run scored. Lopez was two-for-four with two doubles and two runs scored. Cedillo was one-for-four with a double.

Head coach Thomas Roberts said he is proud of how far his team has come.

“It feels really good for these guys, I know they’ve put in a lot of work,” Roberts said. “These guys, these seniors, have been the rock of our program for four years, having three coaches in  three years and persevering through, because that’s hard to persevere through, and so for them to stick with it and to put in the work and effort and time, I’m just amazed and humbled to be around them every single day. When we were coming into the beginning of this year, we were already leaps and bounds ahead of where we were in the beginning of last year. So, we just hit our stride.”

And the team has been unstoppable since.

With four games lined up for the post-season, Lesmeister said he’s just taking it game by game. 

“It’s special to be able to keep playing in post season, because some teams don’t, and, just really looking forward to it,” he said.

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