Some pitchers look for maximum velocity on every pitch.
Centennial’s Cooper Powell certainly isn’t one of them.
The senior left-hander seemed to change speeds on every pitch Saturday, firing a five-hitter to lead the host Bulldogs to a 3-1 win over visiting Bishop Gorman for the Sunset Region baseball title.
“I knew they were a fastball hitting team, and I wanted to get ahead,” Powell said. “I think a lot of guys nibble with them, and I wanted to get ahead and change speeds and do what I’m good at.”
Centennial earned a berth in next week’s state tournament in Reno. The Bulldogs also ended Gorman’s streak of eight straight state tournament appearances.
Powell beat Gorman for the second time in two weeks. He was on the mound for Centennial’s 6-4 win over Gorman on May 7. The Bulldogs also beat the Gaels 6-5 in the winner’s bracket final of the Sunset tourney on Thursday.
“He’s done it to us twice in two weeks,” Gorman coach Nick Day said of Powell. “He’s pitched his butt off, he really has. And not just him, but they’re playing really well. They’ve had some clutch hits the last couple weeks, they’re playing at a high level, and we just couldn’t recover from the three runs.”
Centennial (25-11) plated all three of its runs in the bottom of the first inning on Saturday. Ricky Koplow led off with a single to right field, and Tanner Wright followed with a liner to center. Both runners moved up on a wild pitch, and Koplow scored on a sacrifice fly by Jake Portaro.
Powell then singled through the right side to score Wright, and Powell came around to score on an RBI double to left by Travis Stevens. Powell and Stevens both came through with two outs.
“We preach all the time first-inning runs, because so many games are won and lost in the first inning,” Centennial coach Charlie Cerrone said. “And this was. It’s throughout the season, not just in the playoffs. But if you’re not ready to play at the start of the game, it can cost you.”
Powell, who didn’t allow an earned run, remained composed throughout, even when Gorman (27-6) got runners on base. The Bulldogs turned three double plays behind him, and Gorman stranded eight runners, including two in the seventh inning.
The biggest double play came in the sixth when the Gaels had runners on first and second with one out with Centennial still leading 3-0.
Michael Blasko ripped a liner down the first-base line, but Centennial first baseman Travis Stevens made a sprawling catch, then tagged the bag with his glove for the inning-ending double play.
“We were a couple inches from a line drive being two runs,” Day said. “I haven’t played a lot of games where we couldn’t get anything going our way. And a lot of that goes to Powell. He gets the credit for that. But we just couldn’t get anything going.”
Powell retired the first two batters in the seventh before Grant Robbins singled through the left side of the infield. Robbins moved to second on a balk, and Cadyn Grenier followed with a liner up the middle to put runners at the corners.
Beau Capanna then lifted a fly ball to shallow right field. Wright charged and went for the basket catch, but the ball went off his glove for an error, allowing Robbins to score and Grenier to move to third for Gorman’s No. 3 hitter, Cole Krzmarzick, who was 2-for-3 with a double at the time.
Krzmarzick lifted another ball to Wright in right field, and this time the freshman snagged it to end the game.
“I just kept repeating the outs in my head,” Powell said of the seventh inning. “We only need three outs, two outs, one out. Tanner missed that ball, and I still had faith in our guys, and we prevailed and it was awesome.
“Baseball’s full of second chances, and he got it and he took it.”
Gorman was unable to take advantage of second or third chances against Centennial after the regular-season loss.
“They’ve been cohesive all year long, and I like my guys,” Cerrone said. “I’ll just keep saying that. They’re a good group of guys. Body for body, we probably don’t match up with Gorman. But we outplayed them. You can’t call it a fluke three games.”