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...
His team facing a two-run deficit with two baserunners on and slugger Renee Murphy coming up to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, Crater softball coach Chris Arnold told Murphy what clutch hitters everywhere love to hear:
"Renee," he said, "you ain't gonna bunt."
Nice call, coach.
Murphy crushed Mackenzie Spencer's first-pitch fastball over the left-field wall with one out in the seventh to give the 23rd-ranked Comets a thrilling 6-5 victory over third-ranked Southridge in the OSAA Class 6A state quarterfinals Friday at U.S. Cellular Community Park.
The dramatic victory continues a postseason resurgence that has brought Crater (14-15) one win away from its fourth championship game appearances in six years and first since moving up to Class 6A in 2010. The Comets, who were the lowest-ranked team to make the quarterfinals, will host second-ranked South Salem (26-2) on Tuesday. The Saxons beat Glencoe 6-5.
Muphy's blast capped an out-of-nowhere rally that began when Allie Winningham, who bats ninth in Crater's order, singled down the third-base line to lead off the seventh. After Rachel Ray was thrown out on a bunt attempt, Malorie Mitchell drew a four-pitch walk to bring up Murphy.
The Comets' pitcher was 0-for-3 with two groundouts and a pop-up against Spencer in three previous at-bats, and was determined to avoid another easy out.
In the Comets' dugout, Murphy's twin sister, Kassi, turned to her teammates and said, "Watch this, she's going to hit it over the fence."
Renee Murphy, however, was merely trying to make contact.
"I kept pulling her pitches, so I just said, 'Keep it inside, don't pull it,'" she said.
Spencer gave Murphy one to pull, though, serving up an inside fastball that proved too tempting. The ball exploded off her bat and cleared the fence by about 20 feet as the Southridge defense looked on in stunned silence.
"Oh yeah, I knew," Murphy said when asked if she knew it was gone. "I was excited as soon as I hit it. Like a dream."
"She's that kind of a big-time player and I think all the kids knew (that Murphy would come through)," Arnold said. "After the game we talked and I asked, 'How many of you knew that she was going to do something?' Everybody said, 'Yeah.'"
The season-saving rally began only minutes after the Skyhawks (22-7) grabbed the momentum and a two-run lead, their largest of the game, in the top of the seventh. Shae Nelson came home from third on Bailey Kasler's sacrifice fly to deep center, and Sophie Herman scored on Torie Gentile's full-count single up the middle.
That was Southridge's second big inning of the game after it scored three runs on three hits and two Comet errors in the fourth to take a 3-2 lead. The Skyhawks managed to hold that lead until the sixth, when Crater tied the game with another dramatic hit by a Murphy. This time, it was Kassi Murphy who came through, lining a two-out double to left that went off the tip of the glove of Southridge's Jenna Kelly, scoring Haley Fox from first.
"When I was on deck, I said a prayer, and I got up and I felt it," Kassi Murphy said. "I knew I would do it, so I wasn't worried or anything."
Crater began the game with similar confidence. Renee Murphy gave up a leadoff double to Nelson, then retired the next three batters in order to give the Comets an early lift. In the bottom of the inning, Ray led off with a single and Mitchell reached on an error to set the table for Kenzie Rohde, who singled up the middle to score both, giving Crater a quick 2-0 lead.
Renee Murphy allowed five runs, two earned, on seven hits to pick up the win and improve to 12-13. She had two strikeouts, two walks and a hit batter.
Spencer surrendered six earned runs, five earned, on nine hits, with four strikeouts and two walks.
Rhode and Fox had two hits apiece to lead Crater at the plate.
Erin Bonzer was 2-for-4 and scored in the fourth for the Skyhawks.
The game was moved to the synthetic fields of U.S. Cellular Community Park because the field at Crater High was determined to be unplayable following a morning shower.
That didn't stop a large contingent of Crater fans from showing up, and eventually going bonkers as Murphy's clutch hit left the yard — a hit that left the Skyhawks shaking their heads and wiping away tears as the teams converged for the postgame handshakes.
"Five minutes before that I thought we had the thing going pretty good and I thought we had the game in hand," Southridge coach Wilbur Charters said. "Then we get squeezed a little bit. "… (Spencer) threw it on the plate and away it went. It happens."
Now, the Comets move on to the semifinals, where they will again be the underdogs, a role they've come to embrace.
"I love it," Arnold said. "We always talk about how (the rankings) are not the thing to worry about. It's just how we play and how we feel about ourselves. How other people view us doesn't determine how we play.
"They knew that we were stronger than our record. They knew that if we had everyone firing together that we could make a run."
Southridge 000 300 2 — 5 7 1
Crater 200 001 3 — 6 9 3
Spencer and Bonzer; R. Murphy and Medina. W — R. Murphy (12-13). L — Spencer. 2B — S: Nelson; C: Rohde, K. Murphy. HR — R. Murphy (3).