CENTRAL POINT — It isn't often when you get a quick chance at redemption, but Crater senior Taylor Tibbets seized that opportunity in a big way late Wednesday night at Anhorn Field.
A throwing error by the first baseman created a little tension in the top of the seventh inning during a tie ballgame with Westview at the Crater Spring Break Tournament. The Comets managed to get out of the jam behind the pitching of Nolan Bastendorff and fine defensive work by Ty Fox, Tyler Aplin and Zach Lathrop.
Given a reprieve, Tibbets was more than ready to strike back for his team in the bottom half of the inning.
"I had a feeling in the bottom of my stomach that I was going to be the one to get it done," Tibbets said as he waited for his turn to bat. "I wasn't letting anyone else do it."
After Aplin drew a one-out walk and advanced to second on a single up the middle by Paul Turner, Tibbets wasted little time against Westview starter Kenyon Yovan. On the first pitch of his fourth at-bat against Yovan, Tibbets turned on an offspeed pitch and lined it off the scoreboard beyond the left field fence for a walk-off home run and 4-1 win for the Comets.
"I'd been seeing curveballs the first pitch every at-bat so that's what I was looking for and I just crushed it," he said of his second homer this season. "It's my first walk-off home run so it's just an absolutely amazing feeling."
The late-game heroics made a winner out of Bastendorff who, like Yovan, did well to limit scoring opportunities. Bastendorff allowed five hits and no earned runs with five strikeouts and two walks for Crater (4-1), while Yovan struck out seven but walked six and gave up six hits.
"The only big innings I had was when I started falling behind guys," said Bastendorff, who moved to 2-0. "If I was getting ahead of guys then things were working out really, really well. All my pitches were working, and the changeup was awesome tonight. They're good hitters so they were selective and weren't swinging at balls or anything so I definitely had to work out there."
Crater took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the fourth when leadoff walks to Blake Fahndrich and Gunnar Asher led to a sacrifice bunt by Lathrop to advance both runners. With Tyler Plankenhorn at the plate, Yovan's wild pitch allowed Fahndrich to cross the plate.
Westview (3-2) came right back in the top of the fifth, using a dropped flare by Parker Kelly to ignite a rally that wound up with Robbie Stofiel drawing a bases-loaded walk to tie the score at 1-all. Bastendorff, however, came back to strike out leadoff batter Jayden Hanna and get a groundout to Plankenhorn at second base to minimize the damage.
In the top of the seventh, however, Westview again applied pressure behind Kelly's leadoff single. Courtesy runner Bryan Paul advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Taiki Ishii, then moved to third when Tibbets' throw to pick him off the bag at second went into left field. Robbie Hutchinson followed with a perfect safety squeeze bunt down the first base line but Paul held up at third, and Bastendorff was unable to make a play at any base after securing the baseball.
Hutchinson then stole second base without a throw to put two runners in scoring position with only one out, but the third baseman Fox came up with a chopper by Stofiel and relayed the throw to Aplin at the plate to nab Paul on a collision. Hanna followed with an inning-ending groundout to the shortstop Lathrop.
"Our guy at third didn't get a good enough read," Westview head coach Steve Antich said of the missed opportunities. "The bunt was good enough and with his speed he would've scored. We had two pretty good bunters late and a couple of good chances, and usually we get that done, but we didn't today. Credit to them for getting out of that."
The anxiety of the moment wasn't lost on Bastendorff, even if he didn't show it while on the mound.
"In the top of the seventh, the nerves started kicking in right there," said the senior right-hander. "When we got that groundball to third ... that play at home was a huge confidence booster. Then the bottom of the seventh was awesome."
Yovan had dodged trouble with runners on in all but one inning, but the sophomore right-hander ran out of luck in the seventh. He had struck Tibbets out twice before the Comet was put away on a long flyball to right field in the fifth. The fourth at-bat, however, was over in a hurry.
"The kid ran into one," said Antich of Tibbets' game-winner. "He looks like he might run into one every now and then and he happened to run into one there, what else can you say about it."
"Kenyon wasn't as sharp as he normally is as far as within the zone," added Antich, who grew up in Grants Pass and coached South Medford from 2002-06. "He really struggled at times to throw strikes, which isn't like him. But it's early in the year and he came back and competed and kept on posting zeroes and giving us a shot, and that's all you can ask for on a day like this."
Turner finished 2-for-3 to pace Crater, while Kelly was 2-for-3 for Westview in a battle of two quality programs with high hopes for this season.
"That's what we're looking for early on in the season and that's why we bring good teams in like Westview, to see some good arms and some good competition early on to see where we're at," said Crater head coach Jay Campbell.
"That's definitely a win that you can take the momentum from and build on," he added. "It's one of those games where there are so many little things that went into getting to that point at the end. We didn't execute perfectly at times but we were able to put ourselves in position to get to that point where we could bring Taylor back up to the plate. He's been struggling offensively and it was good to see him come out of it in a big way."
Westview 000 010 0 — 1 5 0
Crater 000 100 3 — 4 6 2
Yovan and Kelly; Bastendorff and Aplin. W — Bastendorff (2-0). L — Yovan. HR — C: Tibbets (2).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry