by: David Ball, Centennial's Michael Hopp makes contact for a hit during a tournament earlier this summer.

Centennial's summer baseball team is looking for a return trip to the state tournament by taking care of business at the AAA American Legion playoffs, starting Thursday, July 13, at Sandy's Bell Street Fields.

The Eagles have put together several long runs at woodbat tournaments the last two weeks in preparation for the must-win playoff atmosphere.

'The kids like the tournaments, because they enjoy having something to play for,' Centennial manager Brent Child said.

The Eagles will need to finish in the top half of their four-team pool to extend their summer season. Centennial opens against Reynolds in a game that could decide which team earns a No. 1 seed.

'It's really important to get off to a good start,' Child said. 'This year, we only get three games in our pool, so if you lose that first one your backs are against the wall.'

The Raiders are hoping to pick up the offense at district, while relying on talented pitchers Trevor Winsor and Brent Holbrook to shut down the opposition.

'We've been getting good pitching through five or six innings, but we need to start closing games out,' Raiders' manager Kelly Larkin said.

East County, a team of graduated players from Gresham and Sandy, is a heavy favorite to win the other pool. Their squad includes all-state infielder Kyle Seymour and home-run threat Mark Hunter of Gresham, while Sandy graduates Austan Mason and Greg Bobnick anchor the pitching staff. Both play at Mt. Hood Community College.

The Knights will be looking for some solid pitching efforts after losing a handful of tight ballgames over the last month.

'We need to raise our level of performance,' Luebbert said. 'We're losing a lot of close games and haven't been able to get over that hump yet.'

East County stranded 23 runners during two games at a Corvallis tournament last month, but has also picked up a win against Salem's Whitnell all-stars - the state runner-up last summer.

We've played some pretty good baseball, but we're capable of more,' Luebbert said. 'This team has a chance to win a lot of games.'

It promises to be a busy week for Luebbert, who also coaches Sandy's summer team. Both teams were entered in a David Douglas tournament earlier in the summer, and Luebbert never left the dugout.

The squads are scheduled to face each other in the final round-robin game Sunday night, but don't look for Luebbert to be racing back-and-forth between innings.

'We decided in that case, I wouldn't coach either team,' Luebbert said. 'We'll let the assistants and the players decide how they want to play that one.'

East County and Centennial each advanced to the eight-team state tournament last summer.

The A legion tournament also starts Thursday, July 13, with games being played at Barlow High School at Reynolds Middle School.

Complete tournament schedules for the AAA and A legion events appear in Wednesday's edition of The Gresham Outlook.

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