CENTRAL POINT — The Crater softball team's remarkable run through the playoffs came to an end on Tuesday.
No. 2-seeded South Salem scored all five of its run in a disastrous fifth inning for sixth-seeded Crater and held on to win 5-2 in the Class 6A state semifinals.
The Saxons, who have won 17 straight, will face North Medford in the 6A championship game at Oregon State University on Saturday. Last year, Century beat South Salem 7-3 in the title contest.
The Saxons (27-2) have played in three of the last four state semifinals.
"This is good for the seniors because they have been good leaders," said South Salem head coach Scott McCormick, the No. 2 winningest coach in Oregon history.
The Comets (14-16), who built a reputation as a perennial contender after winning 5A state championships in 2007, 2008 and 2009, started their season 2-8 and finished in third place in the Southern Oregon Hybrid with a 5-7 record. Despite that, Crater won three straight playoff games to earn its berth in the semifinals.
"Hats off to our kids," Crater head coach Chris Arnold said. "None of them punched out of practice when we were 2-8. They kept focused on what our goal was as a team: to get better and play better and to be playing our best softball at the end of the season. I think it's safe to say we did."
Hits came at a premium during the first four scoreless innings on Tuesday, but South Salem changed all that with its five-run outburst in the fifth. In the frame, the Comets made all three of their errors, Texas Tech-bound Lauran Bliss bashed a two-run double and Emily Coates, Kaley Stauff and Raina Reece drove in runs.
Crater made things interesting in the bottom of the sixth when it scored runs on a Kenzie Rohde RBI fielder's choice and a Saxons fielding error. The Comets got the ball rolling in the inning with consecutive hits by Rachel Ray, Malorie Mitchell and Renee Murphy.
In the bottom of the seventh, Crater's Allie Winningham and Ray both singled with two outs. Mitchell, the tying runner, then struck out, bringing an end to the Comets' season.
"We were sitting there saying, 'We have the tying run at the plate now' (and) you kind of go, 'Oh man,'" McCormick said. "I know they have been on a roll in the playoffs and have some kids who could hit."
South Salem sophomore pitcher Katie Donovan improved to 21-1 after throwing a six-hitter with seven strikeouts and one walk. Murphy pitched a six-hitter with six strikeouts and no walks for the Comets.
Mitchell and Ray both finished 2-for-4 for Crater. Coates was 2-for-3 with a run scored for South Salem, which also beat Crater 6-5 at the North Medford Spring Break Invitational in March.
Ray said she believed from the beginning that her team would come around.
"We were all kind of laughing at the beginning of the season when people were saying, 'Crater is so down this year' and, 'What's the problem?'" she said. "We knew we were a good team. We've played with each other since we were 10, so we knew we would be able to do something great."
South Salem 000 050 x — 5 6 1
Crater 000 002 0 — 2 6 3
Donovan and Bliss; R. Murphy and Medina. W — Donovan (21-1). L — R. Murphy (12-14). 2B — SS: Bliss.
Reach reporter Dan Jones at 541-776-4499, or email firstname.lastname@example.org