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Nine-run sixth inning powers Centennial baseball to playoff win over Long Reach

Centennial senior Jake Watson talks after the Eagles’ 11-5 playoff win on May 10. (Kyle Stackpole / BSMG)

During weather delays, some baseball teams might take batting practice. Others might field ground balls.

Centennial, stuck inside after lightning halted its playoff game against Long Reach on Thursday, ended up in an empty gym with a net and a few exercise balls. The players then split up, about nine on each side, and played a leisurely game of volleyball.

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"We're like, 'Oh, we're bored, let's just play a game," Jake Watson said after the Eagles' 11-5 come-from-behind victory. "So we stayed loose and had fun before we came out and scored nine runs in one inning."

Before the stoppage, Long Reach held a 3-2 advantange in the fourth inning of a fast-paced game. Centennial jumped ahead with two first-inning runs but went down quick and easy the next three frames.

But after the delay, which last a little under an hour, the Eagles broke open the contest with a massive sixth inning en route to avenging two regular season defeats against the Lightning.

"This is team when they can put it all together, they can do a lot of damage," Centennial coach Denis Ahearn said. "We've had our ups and downs this year. We've beaten some of the best teams in the county. And when we have, we've played like this. We've taken advantage of other teams' mistakes, we've executed in big situations and we found a way to make the other teams really uncomfortable."

Despite finishing the regular season below .500, No. 5 seed Centennial (7-11) outslugged two-time reigning county champion Marriotts Ridge in a 10-6 win on April 19. Four days later, Ahearn's team shut down the offense of Mt. Hebron, another one of the league's best squads, and beat the Vikings, 5-1.

Now, after two regular season losses, Centennial will receive a third crack at top-seeded Reservoir, this time with a berth in the 3A East, Section I final on the line. First pitch between the Eagles and Gators is set for Saturday at 1 p.m. in Fulton.

But before Centennial could even think about pulling that upset, it had to escape Columbia against a Long Reach team that has won two-thirds of its games since starting the season 0-5.

The Eagles struck first, receiving run-scoring hits from Alex Crocamo and Jake Watson (3-for-5, three RBIs) before the Lightning (8-10) even had their turn at the plate. Crocamo was also effective on the mound early on. He kept opposing hitters off balance by pounding the strike zone and pitching at a fast tempo, which resulted in two scoreless innings.

Long Reach found an offensive rhythm in the third, though, starting with a single from No. 9 hitter Steven Buczynski. He would come around to score in the frame, as would two of the next three batters. The big blow came from hot-hitting junior Jeremy Huffman, whose double brought home the tying and go-ahead runs. He then scored on Sam Black's RBI single through the left side.

Thanks to that rally, plus a solid outing on the hill from from Buczynski, the Lightning entered the lightning delay with a 3-2 advantage.

Buczynski did not come out to pitch after the stoppage, as coach Brian Wyman turned to his bullpen and specifically Huffman, who worked through a leadoff walk in the fifth inning to keep Long Reach ahead.

However, Huffman began the next inning with another free pass, and the bases on balls cost him this time around. Back-to-back errors followed, and a bases-loaded walk came after that, forcing home the tying run.

And Reservoir was just getting its rally started. The Gators would go on to score nine runs on six hits and three Lightning errors, giving Crocamo plenty of cushion to pitch with.

Wyman has been impressed with his team's hitting during the second half of this season, so he wasn't surprised it continued against Centennial. The Lightning had 12 base knocks, five of which came in that three-run third frame. In the bottom of the sixth, facing a substantial deficit, they responded with two of their own on two hits and walk.

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Ultimately, though, their high-octane offense could not provide enough support to overcome one sloppy inning that ensured Centennial would face off with Reservoir on Saturday.

"A lot of big errors, walks, and those will kill you, especially when they turn into runs. It was tough," Wyman said. "But it's baseball. One bad inning will get you in trouble, and unfortunately, it was too much for our offense to pick up the slack for."

3A East, Section I quarterfinal

No. 5 seed Centennial (7-11) — 11, No. 4 seed Long Reach (8-10) — 5

............123 456 7 R-H-E

C …... 200 009 0 11-13-1

LR ..... 003 002 0 5-12-3

Next up: at No. 1 seed Reservoir on Saturday at 1 p.m.

2A South, Section I quarterfinals

No. 3 seed Glenelg (11-10) — 6, No. 6 seed Hammond (2-19) — 5

Next up: at No. 2 seed River Hill on Saturday at 12 p.m.

No. 4 seed Oakland Mills (8-13) — 15, No. 5 seed Wilde Lake (2-18) — 13

Oakland Mills kept its season alive by outscoring Wilde Lake on Thursday afternoon. Danny Arnedo got he win, while Ben Looper with the save. At the plate, Eric Barros hit two home runs, Looper homered and Phil Carroll launched a grand slam.

Next up: at No. 1 seed Marriotts Ridge on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

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