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...
It didn't take long for Crater's Corey Wynant to have an impact on Tuesday's Southern Oregon Hybrid baseball game against South Medford, just like it didn't take him long to have an impact on the overall Comet program.
Wynant walked to load the bases in the first inning, ripped an RBI single in the second inning and added another RBI single in the third to help power Crater to an 8-2 win over the Panthers at Harry & David Field.
The senior third baseman finished 2-for-3 with a pair of walks, one run and two RBIs.
It was the continuation of a stellar career that began when he suited up for his first game against Grants Pass on March 18, 2009. In that season opener, the then-freshman supplied the game-winning hit — something he did twice in his first five games — to set the tone for big things to come.
"He's the kind of guy I think every coach would love to have in their program," South Medford head coach Ray Smith said of Wynant. "He's got all the skills that you're looking for."
"He's been a great ballplayer ever since his freshman year," added Smith. "He's been a heckuva competitor, he's a very difficult out and he fields the ball well. He's one of the elite players in the league, if not the state of Oregon. He's a kid that's going to go on and do great things in the next level of baseball. I'll tell you what, I'll be glad to see him go."
Such respect across the diamond is something earned.
Wynant led the SOH in hitting last year with a .489 average and had gaudy on-base (.526) and slugging (.809) percentages in receiving honorable-mention all-state acclaim.
This season, Wynant is making the most of his limited opportunities as opponents try their best to pitch around the 6-foot-11/2, 185-pound standout. Crater's No. 3 hitter has a .360 batting average, 13 runs and 10 RBIs. He's belted four home runs, three doubles and one triple.
"He doesn't see a whole lot to deal with, but he handles that pretty well," said Crater head coach Jay Campbell, whose team improved to 14-3 overall and 7-3 in SOH with Tuesday's victory.
Coming off a pair of close losses at top-ranked Roseburg last Saturday, Wynant said it was important for his team to bring a determined energy against the Panthers (5-11, 1-7).
The Comets broke the game open with four runs in the second inning — the seventh time this season South has given up that many runs in one frame — and amassed nine hits to make things easier for winning pitcher Chris Painter.
Sebastian Reynolds and Cole Berriochoa each had two hits and scored twice, while Blake Fahndrich added a two-run single in the second.
"We kinda had a sour taste in our mouth from last weekend so we kinda came out with that aggressive mindset," said Wynant. "We didn't think they'd roll over so we just kinda tried to keep that pressure on them all the way through the game."
Such constant pressure has long been the mantra at Crater, which has churned out big-time sluggers year after year. With Wynant's ability to hit with power as well as for average and athleticism that also makes him a threat on the base paths — he had two stolen bases Tuesday — he's been a perfect fit for the program.
"He doesn't feel pressure, he just relaxes and tries to do the best he can," said Campbell. "We have a lot of confidence in him and he would tell you he's got all the confidence in the world in his teammates, too, and that's what's making the difference in us playing good baseball right now."
Wynant's impact in practices and off the field has been just as great as the one he's made in Crater's games, said Campbell. Wynant started at second base as a freshman, then played shortstop the past two seasons before moving to third without the blink of an eye for his senior campaign.
"He has matured, not only as a baseball player but as a person, too," said the seventh-year coach. "He's doing a great job of leading this group. He knows what we expect and he knows Crater baseball inside and out right now so he's done a great job of taking these younger guys and kind of molding them a little bit."
It's a role Wynant is happy to play for the Comets, who were picked to finish last in a preseason coaches' poll after Crater managed only five wins against SOH competition one year ago. Players like Bruce Sanford and Kenny Fahndrich helped take Wynant under their wing when he was a wide-eyed freshman and it only seemed natural for him to continue the tradition as a seasoned veteran in 2012.
"I'm really happy with the season so far," said Wynant, who has signed to play next season at Lane Community College. "I was a little worried about it because we were young, but we have this camaraderie where we just band together, and it's actually a really good sight to see. Playing four years, I guess I know what the game's like and can mentor some of the younger guys."
"This is a really, really good ballclub that we've got here," he added, "and if anyone underestimates us like they did at the beginning of the season, then we'll have to show you a thing or two."
First on Wynant's list of teaching tools for younger Comets likely is the same advice Sanford gave him to help steady his nerves at the plate because that has served him well all four years at Crater.
"He told me to pick a song and then sing it in my head during games to keep me steady-minded," said Wynant, who turns 18 on Thursday. "The first song that came in my head was 'Life is a Highway' by Rascal Flatts, so whenever I get into a slump or if I just want to relax, I'll sing it in my head."
And how good is Wynant's version?
"In my head I sound exactly like Rascal Flatts, exactly," he said with a laugh as confident as his approach at the plate.
Crater 141 000 2 — 8 9 2
South Medford 000 020 0 — 2 5 1
Painter and Aplin; Berman, Z. Smith (2), Cooney (6) and J. Walker. W — Painter (3-1). L — Berman (1-1). 2B — C: Berriochoa; SM: Bradd.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry