4A STATE: Centennial vows to win title for teammate with brain tumor

Sophomores Katelynn Rauskin and Taylor Huntly each might have pitched the game of their short Centennial High School careers Friday.

And yet neither Bulldog had quite as much of an impact on the team’s performance on the first day of the Class 4A state softball tournament as a teammate who wasn’t even in the dugout at UNLV’s Eller Media Stadium.

Rauskin tossed a three-hitter in Centennial’s first game, a 2-0 win over Foothill, and Huntly backed it up with another three-hitter in a 3-0 victory over Bishop Manogue in the winners’ bracket final as the Bulldogs (26-12) moved within one win of recapturing the state crown.

Although the pitching was fabulous and the defense just as good,  the motivation for the Bulldogs was impossible to top.

Centennial’s players found out Thursday that teammate Kassidy Merritt has a brain tumor. The sophomore reserve practiced with the team this week and was on the bench, ready to play, in the state play-in game Monday.

Four days later, she was in a hospital undergoing a battery of tests.

“It’s hard for us, but we’re doing this for her, nothing else matters,” Huntly said. “We want to be there for Kassidy. We want to win it for her.”

Centennial coach Mike Livreri said Merritt got the results of an MRI on Thursday after battling illnesses and headaches for much of the season.

“It’s pretty bad,” Livreri said. “They did more MRIs today on the spine and on the tumor and went in for surgery. They did some biopsies, but the tumor is tapping into the brain stem. The doctors want to wait. They have to do chemotherapy to try to shrink it before they can try to remove it.

“It’s severe, but if anybody can pull through it, Kassidy can pull through it. She’s tough. She’s a coach’s dream. She just has a great attitude.”

On a deep and talented team, Merritt’s playing time has been limited. Her impact, though, has not been.

“She means a ton to this team,” Livreri said. “She’s known most of these girls all of her life. It hurts the kids, but they want to do this for her.”

The Bulldogs played like a team with a purpose in the winners’ final against Manogue, scoring three runs on two-out hits by Alyssa Finger and Kylie Bartlett in the top of the first before turning it over to Huntly and the defense.

Huntly faced only one more batter than the minimum, striking out eight and not allowing a walk.

“I knew they were good hitters, but I relied on my dropball a lot,” Huntly said. “It got me through.”

The defense didn’t hurt, either.

Huntly got 12 groundouts, including a 1-6-3 double play to end the fourth inning.

“She was just in a zone,” Livreri said. “She was aggressive early, getting ahead of batters, sticking with her pitches that were working. She stayed away from a lot of their hitters.”

Savannah Horvath had two hits and scored a run for Centennial.

In the Bulldogs’ opener, Rauskin fired a three-hitter with two strikeouts, and Centennial struck for two runs in the sixth to top Foothill.

Finger and Bartlett each provided a two-out RBI single in the sixth, and the Bulldogs worked around their only error of the day, turning two double plays to stymie the Falcons.

Overall, in 14 innings Friday, Centennial allowed only two runners to reach second base and none to get to third.

“I couldn’t ask for a better effort than I got from my pitchers,” said Livreri, whose team will meet either

Palo Verde or Manogue in the title game at noon today. The Palo Verde-Manogue winner must beat the Bulldogs twice to prevent Centennial from claiming the title it last won in 2009.

Bishop Manogue 2, Palo Verde 1 — In the first game of the tournament, Kelly Lujan singled home Stevie Tavener with the winning run with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning as the Miners nipped the Panthers (30-9).

Tavener singled to lead off the eighth and moved to third on bunts by Mollie Pierce and J’Naey Soule before Lujan singled solidly through the right side.

Melissa McCormick tossed a four-hitter for Palo Verde, and Angel Council was 2-for-4 for the Panthers.

Manogue’s Megan Dortch fired a five-hitter and had seven strikeouts.

Palo Verde 15, Foothill 5 — The Panthers scored six runs in the top of the first and took advantage of 14 Falcon errors to eliminate Foothill in a five-inning game.

Cheryl Iddings was 3-for-4 with two runs and an RBI in the No. 9 slot, and Breanna Beatty,

McCormick, Melissa Lacro, Rachel Williams and Rachael Turner added two hits apiece for Palo Verde, which led 10-1 after two innings.

Lauren Penksa doubled and singled for the Falcons (22-13).