Chargers use energy from hot start to best Maroons: 'We all wanted it'

Apr. 19—CHAMPAIGN — If you ask Centennial baseball coach Vince Perri, he'll tell you he saw Friday night coming.

He watched his players get off the bus at Spalding Park. He watched them warm up opposite of crosstown rival Champaign Central. Something just felt different.

"The guys had an energy to start the night that I don't think we've had until now," Perri said. "The whole game from the get-go had a different feel than anything else we've done this year."

Now, the key is to bottle up what the Chargers brought to the field on Friday night and harness it for Monday night. A series sweep is on the line for the Chargers after they rallied to beat the Maroons 9-6 in the first game of a two-game Big 12 series that continues at 6 p.m. Monday at Centennial's home field.

Centennial made itself right at home on the Maroons' home field on Friday night, with Jake Miller stepping up to the plate and smashing the first pitch of the game over the right-field fence to give the Chargers a 1-0 lead right out of the gate.

The leadoff home run sent a jolt through the already jumping Centennial dugout, and the Chargers rode that energy to a surprise win against their rival.

"Immediate rush of confidence," Centennial junior Madden Schurvinske said of the team after Miller's home run. "We've been waiting for this moment the whole year. We've had this game circled on the calendar. For it to come and actually work in this type of game, it's an unreal feeling."

Schurvinske was an immediate benefactor of the early momentum, as he belted a solo home run to the same part of the field just a few pitches later. The Chargers' No. 3 hitter was easily the star of the night, going 5 for 5 at the plate with the home run, a double and four RBI.

"He's been hurting a little bit, and he really came through for the team," Perri said. "He was determined not to let anything affect him at the plate, and it showed."

The Maroons (11-10) didn't let the 2-0 first-inning deficit faze them, as they got on the board in the second with a John Timmons sacrifice fly.

Centennial (2-10-1) increased its lead to 3-1 the next inning with an RBI fielder's choice from Kam Murphy, but Central responded again, this time with two runs in the fourth inning after three straight singles from Sam McArthur, Oliver Brandow and Aiden Elliott to tie the score at 3.

The Maroons took their first lead of the night in the fifth on an RBI single by T.J. Pipkins, and Elliott drove in a pair of runs later in the inning to extend it to 6-3. With two innings to play after that, there was a general belief around the ballpark that Central was on the verge of putting the game out of reach, but the opposite happened.

"We didn't do enough," Central coach John Staab said. "I tip my cap to Centennial. They outcoached us and outexecuted us."

The Chargers loaded the bases in the sixth inning without recording an out. Batter after batter reached base to push across run after run. They wound up scoring four runs that frame to regain the lead at 7-6. Schurvinske's two-run double in the top of the seventh added some insurance, giving Centennial a 9-6 lead, and all but ended Central's chances.

"You come into each game with the mindset that you're going to win," Schurvinske said. "I came in with a chip on my shoulder. We weren't going to roll over. We all wanted it."

Miller drew three walks to go along with his leadoff home run, and Tate Sauer had two hits, including a double, in the winning effort. Brandow reached base four times for the Maroons, and McArthur and Chris Timmons got on three times apiece.

"I didn't get my kids to treat this as just another game," Staab said. "Mentally, we lacked focus and didn't execute as well as they did. ... We can't make it more than it is. I've been saying that all week. Unfortunately, I think our guys did that (Friday night), and it bit them. Got to shed it, learn and move on quick."

For both teams. A new opportunity awaits on Monday night in a game that has more meaning than just a customary regular-season game.

"It gives them confidence. They know now that they can compete," Perri said. "There have been spots where we've competed, but we haven't been able to do it for a whole game. This will hopefully propel us into getting some more victories."