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...
CENTRAL POINT — Playing in a lineup brimming with talent, it's often difficult to separate yourself. The thing is, though, Taylor Tibbets has no desire to separate himself from the pack at Crater High.
A senior first baseman for the Comets, Tibbets has only one thought in mind when it comes to his final baseball season, and that's being one of nine in a lineup angling to accomplish something special.
"I'm just trying to help my team out and doing all I can to support them and get the win," says Tibbets. "I just want to keep our season going strong and try to get to our goal of a state title."
Try as he might, Tibbets still has already carved out a standout role for a Crater team that ranks fifth in the state and takes an 11-3 record into Tuesday's opener of a three-game series this week against No. 4 North Medford (13-1, 3-0 SOH).
The 6-foot-1, 210-pounder belted a walk-off three-run home run to beat Westview earlier this season and has continued his clutch, powerful hitting throughout. Tibbets is hitting a solid .311 with a team-best five homers to go with 14 RBIs and 10 runs scored. He's also coming off an all-tournament effort at the 32-team Easter Baseball Classic in Fresno, Calif., where he helped Crater finish runner-up to a Clovis squad ranked 11th in the nation by MaxPreps.
"He's definitely come up clutch with hits already this year," says Crater head coach Jay Campbell. "He's a guy that we definitely want to have at the plate if we're in a situation where we need to get a hit."
"Defensively, he's a solid first baseman, too," adds Campbell. "He made some great plays digging some baseballs at first down in California."
A two-year starter, Tibbets has made his greatest impact in the power department this year for the Comets, who pose a threat to any pitcher throughout the lineup. The 18-year-old standout has almost as many home runs this year as he managed in his last three summer and spring seasons combined (6).
"He hits the ball as hard as any kid I've seen," says Campbell. "Every swing he takes is a powerful swing and he's a strong young man anyway. He has a nice swing and he's worked hard at it and put the time in so it's great to see the rewards of hard work and dedication to becoming a good hitter come his way."
Tibbets had two home runs in each of the last two summers seasons for Central Point's American Legion A team, and managed two last season when he was a designated hitter and then took over in left field for an injured Blake Fahndrich.
"I've always been a pretty good hitter but I've never hit this many home runs before," says Tibbets. "I just hit the gym really hard in the offseason and it's paying off big-time."
One thing is sure, Tibbets says he's not trying to clear the fence in every at-bat.
"I'm just trying to put the ball in play and help my team any way possible," he insists, "and home runs just come when I put the right swing on the ball."
They most certainly do, much to the Comets' delight. While Crater has plenty of weapons, the only other home run in 14 games this season has come from senior catcher Tyler Aplin.
"He definitely packs a punch when he swings, there's no question about that," says Campbell. "He has the potential every time he comes to the plate to leave the yard, but he's not really trying for it. But if a pitcher makes a mistake, he's got a good chance of making them pay, for sure."
When he leaves the yard, especially on a game-winner like against Westview, Tibbets says there's no finer feeling. The best part, he says, is coming through for his teammates.
"It's a great feeling because I know I've helped my team and that's all I'm really there for is to help my team," he says. "That's the great thing about this team, I have confidence in every single person in the lineup. I know that when I get on the guy behind me will pick me up, and I know I can pick up the guys in front of me."
Tibbets says his love for baseball began the moment he stepped on the diamond as a 4-year-old prospect. It's the same today, although there's certainly a lot more hours being put into his passion when it comes to daily trips to the field to hone his game or gym to lay foundation to his powerful swing.
"I've loved baseball ever since I could pick up a ball," he says. "I knew as soon as I started being on the field that I loved it and I didn't ever want to leave the field."
Tibbets says he and his cohorts picked up a lot of confidence over the summer after winning the American Legion A state title and then following that up with a dominant performance to win the Northwest Regional title.
"That was a huge boost for our (spring) season," he says. "It showed us that we could do what we've been told we were capable of doing for a long time."
Holding their own in the Easter Baseball Classic last week added more foundation to the belief that the Comets certainly could be a contender for this year's Class 6A state championship. They'll get another big test with this week's three-game series against North Medford, which is another title contender.
The Comets took two of the three games against the Black Tornado a year ago, and wound up finishing second in the SOH before falling 2-1 in the state quarterfinals to eventual champion Sheldon. While nothing will be settled for the season through this week's results, Tibbets says he and his teammates are just excited for the opportunity to play against another quality baseball team.
"It's going to be a dogfight to the end because we always compete very well," he says. "I love high-stress games like that because it brings out the best in players."
Tuesday's game will be at North Medford, while the deciding doubleheader will begin at noon Saturday at Anhorn Field in Central Point.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry