INDEPENDENCE – The Central High School Panthers baseball team advanced to the semifinals after an explosive performance last week, taking a 2-0 shutout against Hillsboro (14-13 overall, 11-7 Northwest Oregon Conference) and a 6-4 triumph against La Salle (17-11 overall, 15-3 NWOC).
The Panthers hosted Thurston (24-5 overall, 14-2 Midwestern League) on Tuesday after press time for a shot at the state championships this Saturday.
May 22 the team hosted Hillsboro for the play-in game.
Senior Ricky Taylor clinched the first run of the game for the Panthers (22-4 overall, 14-2 Mid-Willamette Conference) in the third inning after stealing second and third bases.
Senior Hunter Chase followed Taylor with a run of his own.
It was the only two runs the Panthers would score, but it was enough to seal the deal and move on to battle against La Salle (17-10 overall, 15-3 Northwest Oregon Conference), a team that is ranked No. 11 in the Oregon Sports Athletics Association rankings.
The stands were full, with people scattered around the fences lining the baseball diamond, to watch the Panthers nab the play-in game win.
The team’s grit and determination to make it this far has paid off.
“It’s good for these guys, they work extremely hard, and it’s rewarding for them when they put in the work,” said head coach Tom Roberts. “They’ve been locked in all week and so they expect to come out with a win.”
Stakes are higher in the playoffs, but senior Kaleb Kantola said he expected the same things of himself in this game as every other game.
“Every game I just expect to pitch a complete game and give up no runs, and I did that, so it feels pretty good,” Kantola said.
He said it feels good to see the team in this spot, especially in his last season with the Panthers.
“We haven’t been in the playoffs for a while; we’ve always lost in the play-in games,” he said. “We just gotta ride the momentum, keep playing.”
Kantola threw a no-hitter, going seven innings, striking out eight with one walk and zero hits. Chase had one RBI and a run scored. Senior Brandon Lopez was two-for-three.
Roberts said he wants to make sure the team comes out with a little more pressure at-bats for Friday’s game.
“You know you’re going to face a good pitcher, everybody that makes the postseason has at least one good pitcher,” Roberts said. “And so, they brought their No.1 and he’s pretty good, but getting those extra bases we got in the third inning really helped out and put pressure on those guys. We hit the ball hard tonight, but a lot of them were right at people.”