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By Rod Thornburg / Special toThe Californian
By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN
It takes a lot to keep the Centennial baseball team down. As Liberty found out, three runs isn't nearly enough.
In a key battle to determine the winner of the Southwest Yosemite League championship, the explosive Golden Hawks overcame an early 3-0 deficit to down the visiting Patriots 16-7 on Wednesday.
With the victory, Centennial clinched at least a share of the SWYL title and eliminated Liberty, which came into the day tied for second with Stockdale, from championship contention.
The Golden Hawks, who are one game ahead of the Mustangs with one to go, can clinch the league's top spot outright if they beat Liberty on Friday or Stockdale loses its game that day to Bakersfield High.
"We don't want to be co-champions," Centennial coach Randy Roberts said.
The Golden Hawks certainly played like a team on a mission in thrashing a solid Liberty squad.
After falling into quick hole, Centennial tied the game with three runs in the second inning and then took the lead for good with six more two frames later.
Jordan Herrera and Todd Nicks both hit three-run home runs and Mitchell Haas and Andrew Daughtery each smacked a pair of doubles and drove in two runs for the Golden Hawks, who pounded 13 hits off of four Liberty pitchers.
Daughtery, Centennial's starting pitcher, allowed four runs in four innings of work to get the victory. The senior right-hander gave up four hits and three walks, while striking out three.
"It was huge win for us," Daughtery said. "Coach prepared us really well all week. He told us what a big game it was. We just came out and competed the whole game. We all came together, had some good at bats and played good defense."
Most of the damage inflicted on him by the Patriots came during the first two innings. In the opening frame, Christian Sinnott hammered a two-run homer two batters after Josh Medina hit a one-out ground-rule double.
Liberty upped its lead by a run an inning later on Jassen Oliver's RBI single.
Soon after that the Centennial onslaught began.
Adam Hightower's second-inning run-scoring single tied the game. Then in the fourth, the Golden Hawks took over by batting around for the first of two times in the game.
After Andrew Hansen plated the go-ahead run with a line drive single to center, Daughtery made it 7-3 with a two-run double into the left-field corner. Moments later, Herrera crushed a pitch from Liberty starter Kaidan Meadows over the left-field fence, extending the Golden Hawks' lead to 10-3.
"We never say quit," Roberts said. "Guys swing a bat, especially at home, and we were excited to play today and it showed."
Liberty struggled on the mound and in the field. Patriots' pitchers gave up seven extra-base hits, issued six walks, and unleashed three wild pitches.
They weren't helped much by a defense that committed four errors and let a catchable fly ball drop for a double.
"Any time you play Centennial High School you had better bring you're A-game because those guys can really swing it," Liberty coach Tony Mills said. "...Bottom line is when you get out to a 3-0 lead you have to continue to get more and get more and we didn't."
The 16 runs is the second most scored by Centennial this season. The Golden Hawks go into Friday's big game against the Patriots riding a six-game winning streak.
Roberts said he never though his team would be in its current position because of all the injuries suffered this season by some of his team's key players.
"Nicks, our third hitter, he had surgery, so we lost him in the middle of the season. Our catcher broke his thumb and had surgery. We lost him. We've had some things happen to us this year that have made things difficult."
All that adversity has only made the Golden Hawks stronger and Roberts is confident they can beat Liberty for a third time this year and claim their first outright league championship since 2010.
"We have Corbin Burnes to throw, our No. 1, so we like our chances," he said.