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CENTRAL POINT — The age-old expression that the last three outs in baseball are the hardest to get played out that way Tuesday at Anhorn Field, much to the chagrin of the hopeful Crater Comets in a Southern Oregon Hybrid clash with No. 1-ranked Roseburg.
Sixth-ranked Crater took a three-run lead into the final inning but had the wheels fall off in every way possible during a five-run surge by the Indians that allowed the visitors to escape town with an 8-6 triumph.
"There's no question about it, that was a good high school baseball game," said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. "They did a good job of putting some balls in play and we fell behind hitters there in the seventh inning for the first time all day so we had to throw some different pitches. They hit the ball and we didn't close it the way that we should have."
The Comets (15-5, 7-4 SOH) committed all three of their errors in the seventh inning and Roseburg batted through its lineup to pull off the comeback and clinch its third straight outright conference championship. The Indians also shared the title in 2009 with North Medford.
"The bottom line is we get out of here with a win after a great performance in the top of the seventh there to push some runs across and put pressure on," said Roseburg head coach Troy Thompson. "It's a good sign on our part for our kids to battle back like that."
Crater played determined throughout after playing Roseburg (18-2, 9-1) down to the wire only 10 days before in the first matchup between the SOH leaders.
The Comets used a no-doubt two-run home run by senior Corey Wynant and an RBI single by Stefano Sparacino to fire up the home crowd in the bottom of the first for a 3-0 lead. After the Indians battled back to tie the game at 3-all in the fourth, sophomore Blake Fahndrich brought Crater's spirits back up with a three-run homer of his own in the bottom of the fifth for a 6-3 advantage.
"Those were two big at-bats, two good swings by two good hitters," said Campbell. "They had a good approach at the plate and both those hits were hit pretty well. Those were huge momentum lifts on our side but we couldn't hold that momentum through the end."
Crater starting pitcher Chris Painter did well to quiet Roseburg as much as he did through six innings. The senior left-hander struck out nine, walked three and allowed five hits with one hit batter. He got out of a bases-loaded jam in the third to allow only one run but was hurt by poor location on a two-out pitch in the fourth to Connor Newell that wound up being a two-run, game-tying triple.
A clearly tired Painter gave up a ground-rule double to Conner Kahle to lead off the seventh and then threw two balls to Newell before being replaced mid-batter by Campbell. Senior right-hander Matt Preston then came in to try and close out the Indians but struggled to find the form that allowed him to no-hit Roseburg through six innings 10 days ago.
"Chris came out and gave it everything he had and he just ran out of a little bit of gas there in the last inning," said Campbell. "We went to Matt and Matt's been great all year, he just didn't have it today. That happens, that's baseball and that's why you play."
Newell greeted Preston with an RBI single to right field that turned into much more moments later when right fielder Sebastian Reynolds, who was 4-for-4 with two runs for Crater, misplayed the hot roller and allowed Newell to advance all the way to third.
David Irvine then walked to put the tying run on base, and the Comets caught a tough break when third baseman Wynant came up with a blistering shot by Darin Nelson but unsuccessfully tried to tag out a retreating Newell at third base. That left the bases loaded with no outs, and Preston promptly hit Josh Graham with a pitch to make it 6-5.
Mike Morin, who got the start on the mound and allowed eight hits with five strikeouts in five innings, then grounded a chopper toward Wynant that hit off his glove and bounced into left field to allow two runs to score and give Roseburg its first lead of the game. A throwing error by Preston on a bunt attempt loaded the bases again and Brady Fuller supplied a sacrifice fly for the Indians' fifth run of the frame before Preston struck out the final two batters.
In the seventh, Roseburg called upon Jared Priestley to close out the Comets. The Oregon-bound senior struck out two batters before allowing a single by Ty Fox, then induced a groundout to second base to cap the comeback.
"What a good ballgame I thought for five, six innings of that between both clubs," said Thompson. "Crater's a very good club and they do a nice job and they had a good performance from Painter on the mound today. He did a great job and we were fortunate to get some breaks in the seventh, and create some breaks at the same time, and then take advantage of it to come out of here with a good, solid win."
On the opposite end, the frustration of coming so close before having victory snatched away was apparent on the Comets' faces.
"Losing a game like that, you could see it in the kids' eyes that they were hurting," said Campbell. "That bad taste that's in our mouths, that's not going to go away for a day or two. That's how much effort and hard work these kids have put in and they've put it all together, it's just unfortunate that we weren't able to finish."
"They're going to come back tomorrow and these kids will work hard," added the seventh-year coach. "We'll get better and we'll learn from this because we're going to be in this situation again. That was a playoff-type atmosphere today and we just need to learn from it and be better the next time we're in that situation."
Roseburg 001 200 5 — 8 6 2
Crater 300 030 0 — 6 10 3
Morin, Fuller (6), Priestley (7) and Graham; Painter, Preston (7) and Aplin. W — Priestley (7-0). L — Preston (4-2). 2B — R: Kahle. 3B — R: Newell. HR — C: Wynant (5), Fahndrich (4).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry