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It isn't often when both baseball teams legitimately were right in believing they could have walked away with a doubleheader sweep but that's exactly what played out Saturday at Harry & David Field.
Instead, South Medford and visiting Crater had to settle for a Southern Oregon Hybrid split, leaving each camp with mixed feelings on a sunny afternoon.
The Panthers rallied from a 7-2 deficit to claim an 8-7 triumph in the opener, and the Comets returned the favor with a comeback of their own for a 10-6 victory in Game 2.
"It wasn't the way we planned it but you take it and move on," said Crater head coach Jay Campbell.
The Comets (13-7, 4-2 SOH) had hoped to strengthen their hold on first place in the conference standings but took their foot off the pedal a little too early in Game 1 and wound up being fortunate to remain in striking distance of North Medford (16-4, 7-2).
As for South Medford (11-8, 3-6), the mere fact that it was able to withstand Crater's early onslaught and fight to the end for a win in the opener was impressive considering how rare it is to win despite committing five errors and allowing a team to bat around almost twice.
In Game 2, both teams sent eight batters to the plate in the first inning and the Panthers got the better of it with a 4-2 lead that eventually blossomed to 5-2 before Crater used a seven-run fifth inning to rewrite the day's history.
"We could have gotten out of here with a sweep and that would've been a pretty big surprise for a lot of people," said Panthers head coach Ray Smith. "We were fortunate to hang as close as we were in the first game. We didn't play as well defensively as we would've liked and we also missed opportunities offensively earlier in that game."
"It's a credit to our kids for staying with it and competing through that full seven innings," he added. "That's something we didn't do in that second game."
Crater scored three first-inning runs in the opener off RBI efforts from Blake Fahndrich, Taylor Tibbets and Paul Turner and took it to another level with four runs in the fourth inning highlighted by a solo homer from Anthony Martin and ensuing triple from Ty Fox.
The comfort level of a 7-2 lead wound up being a little too much for the Comets, however, as South Medford chipped away with RBIs from Trevor Meyer and Brady Breeze in the bottom of the fourth and then took a surprising lead with four runs in a sloppy sixth inning for Crater.
Two straight singles by Breeze and Jimmy Sporer put an end to the day for Crater starter Nolan Bastendorff and Fox came in to get a strikeout right away before watching it all go downhill from there. Ball four to Pat Alexander wound up being a wild pitch that allowed Breeze to score and then Sporer crossed the plate when catcher Tyler Aplin's throw to the plate skipped off Fox's shin and up the third base line.
Pardee then slipped when making his throw after ranging left from second base, allowing Joe Cooney to reach safely as the go-ahead run. Fox momentarily slowed the snowball with a strikeout but Austin White's two-run single right back at him seconds later gave South its first and only lead of the game at 8-7.
"I think we scored three runs in the first inning and we thought we were just going to kinda cruise through the game," said Campbell, "and (South Medford) did a good job of chipping away and we helped them defensively."
"When you have an opportunity to bury a team you've really got to take advantage and we weren't able to do that," he added. "We gave them some life and some energy and they were able to get that win the first game."
Sophomore left-hander Ryan Carle was instrumental in Game 1 after coming on in relief of Caleb Newman to toss two scoreless innings before Cooney sealed the deal with a scoreless seventh. Carle allowed only one hit with one strikeout to earn his first varsity victory.
The nightcap was far from a thing of beauty from the outset, with Brandon Lupton's two-run single supplying the difference as South Medford opened a 4-2 advantage with help from two of Crater's four errors.
A wild pitch by Comets starter Dylan Pearce put his team in a 5-2 deficit in the fourth inning, but Crater picked up its sophomore right-hander by sending 12 batters to the plate against three South Medford pitchers in the fifth.
Tibbets opened the scoring with a two-run single and Turner tied it with a single up the middle to put an end to Lupton's day on the mound. Cooney came in but gave up an RBI single to Pardee and allowed another run in on a wild pitch to make it 7-5. Carle again entered and picked up three outs around an RBI walk to Evan Erskine and sacrifice fly by Martin.
Despite a shaky start, Pearce wound up scattering five hits over seven innings to improve his record to 4-0. He finished with three strikeouts and four walks but did well to remain poised and keep South from putting together a big inning beyond the first.
"It was kind of a weird day for us," said Campbell. "I challenged them between games to see how they would respond and they responded well. That was good to see and that's what you expect out of a club that obviously didn't play well to finish the first game."
Tibbets was solid throughout for Crater, finishing 5-for-8 with two runs and four RBIs, while Fahndrich was 3-for-7 with one run and four RBIs and Martin 4-for-7 with four runs and two RBIs.
Sporer paced the Panthers by going 5-for-6 with three runs and one RBI in the leadoff spot, while Lupton was 3-for-7 with two runs and two RBIs. South's 14 hits in Game 1 were the most since getting 17 in the first game of a March 23 twin bill against North Valley.
Crater 300 400 0 — 7 10 3
South Medford 011 204 x — 8 14 5
Bastendorff, Fox (6) and Aplin; Newman, Carle (5), Cooney (7) and White. W — Carle (1-0). L — Fox (4-3). 2B — C: Pardee; SM: Lupton. 3B — C: Fox. HR — C: Martin (1).
Crater 200 070 1 — 10 11 4
South Medford 400 101 0 — 6 5 2
Pearce and Aplin; Lupton, Cooney (5), Carle (5) and White. W — Pearce (4-0). L — Lupton (3-2).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry