Athletic directors at the Class 5A level have proven to be the most invested in controlling their own playoff destiny since a switch to the...
CENTRAL POINT — The day the Southern Oregon Hybrid coaches' poll came out, Crater head coach Jay Campbell gathered the Comets, picked to finish last, for a pre-practice talk.
"I just said, 'This is what we're picked and we all know that that's not going to happen,'" Campbell said. "And that's all we've ever really said about it."
All they've said out loud, perhaps. In the field and at the plate, the Comets' play has done the talking.
Tyler Aplin's grand slam highlighted a seven-run first inning and Corey Wynant and Blake Fahndrich also went deep as Crater continued its blazing start to the season with an 11-3 victory over Ashland on Tuesday at Anhorn Field.
The nonconference win was Crater's 11th in 12 games — its lone loss was Saturday's 12-inning setback to North Medford — giving the Comets the most victories in 6A baseball.
"We use (the poll) as motivation," Campbell said, "but we have high expectations for ourselves and it really doesn't matter what other people think."
The Comets buried Ashland early, using three walks, three singles and some aggressive base running to take a 3-0 lead — and that was before Aplin came up. The sophomore catcher, batting ninth in the order, unloaded on freshman Steen Fredrickson's first offering, sending it over the wall in left-center field for a 7-0 lead.
Fredrickson settled down after that, retiring the next six Comets before working his way out of a two-on, no-out jam in the third. He finished with five costly walks and two strikeouts in three innings.
Crater starter Nolan Bastendorff, another sophomore, escaped jams in the second and third before surrendering two unearned runs in the fourth, but the Comets got those back, plus one, in the bottom of the inning on Wynant's two-run blast followed by Fahndrich's solo homer.
Wynant leads the Comets with four home runs; Fahndrich has three.
Sebastian Reynolds' RBI single in the fifth completed the scoring for the Comets, who out-hit Ashland only 10-9 and committed two errors but made the most of their opportunities.
The Grizzlies (4-5), on the other hand, struggled with runners in scoring position. They stranded nine runners, including two in the second and two in the third when the outcome was still in doubt.
In the second, Bastendorff got out of the jam himself by striking out Eric Carlson and Ryan Bottimore back-to-back. In the third, Ashland's Taylor Humphrey and Evan Westhelle hit back-to-back singles to bring up No. 3 hitter Billy Hansen with one out, but again Bastendorff came through. He got Hansen to pop out and Ashland cleanup hitter Ethan Schlecht to ground out to short.
"We just have got to finish (rallies)," Schlecht said.
Bastendorff held Ashland to four hits in four innings before being taken out. The Comets used a different pitcher in each of the last three innings — Fahndrich in the fifth, Inkley in the sixth and Wynant in the seventh.
The Grizzlies scored their final run in the fifth on Bryce Rogan's RBI single to right. The lefty fought off a 2-2 pitch to deliver Ashland's third hit of the inning after Evan Westhelle started the rally with a double.
Fahndrich extinguished the threat moments later, getting Jamie Flynn to ground out to short to leave two runners stranded.
That has turned out to be a strength for the surprising Comets, who started four sophomores on Tuesday.
Aplin went 2-for-4 with the homer and a double down the third-base line in the fifth — he ended up scoring on Reynolds' single. The first-inning rocket was his first home run of the season and came three days after he delivered a clutch, three-run double against North Medford.
Ashland 000 210 0 — 3 9 0
Crater 700 310 x — 11 10 2
Fredrickson, Carlson (4) and Westhelle, Glick (4); Bastendorff, Fahndrich (5), Inkley (6), Wynant (7) and Aplin. W — Bastendorff (3-0). L — Fredrickson. 2B — A: Schlecht, Westhelle, Humphrey; C: Aplin. HR — C: Aplin (1), Wynant (4), Fahndrich (3).