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 — When the midseason matchup involves the Nos. 1-2 baseball teams in the Class 6A power rankings, it's supposed to be good.
What North Medford and Crater provided those at Anhorn Field during Saturday's doubleheader went well beyond anyone's expectations.
After Crater used a four-run outburst in the sixth inning to seal a 7-3 win in the opening game of the weekend twin bill, the Southern Oregon Hybrid series was knotted at one game apiece between the two title favorites.
With conference bragging rights on the line for Game 3, neither North Medford nor Crater was willing to budge in a series finale that featured more tension and big plays than some teams experience over a given month of the season.
The Black Tornado and Comets traded blows in a four-hour marathon affair that was resolved in the bottom of the 15th inning when Crater senior Taylor Tibbets slapped a walk-off single into center field that plated Tyler Aplin for an 8-7 victory.
The final play set off a roller-coaster of emotions on both sides of the well-played contest, be it jubilation, relief, exhaustion or intense pride for being part of such a classic confrontation.
"It was a great experience for all of us," said Tibbets, who finished 4-for-7 with four RBIs in the nightcap. "Both teams were fighting to the very end, we just happened to come out on top. Both teams had opportunities to score but both teams played great defense throughout the entire game to keep that from happening for a while."
North Medford senior Micah Brown echoed those sentiments for a game that saw him shift from shortstop to pitcher and then back to shortstop on defense while also going 3-for-6 with two runs and three RBIs.
"Those are the type of games you think of when you're a kid," said Brown. "The situations some of us had ... top of an inning with two outs and 3-2 counts ... it's just one of those things you dream about. We would've liked to win but it was a fun game nevertheless."
North Medford (14-3, 4-2 SOH) and Crater (13-4, 2-1) combined for 35 hits in Game 2 and it certainly wasn't for a lack of pitching. Black Tornado starter David Crofton gave way to Brown and Jordan Ragan in the extra-inning thriller and each performed admirably, and the same could be said on Crater's side with Dylan Pearce turning the ball over to Gunnar Asher and Ty Fox under grueling conditions.
This day simply revolved around the undeniable spirit of the Comets, who found themselves playing catchup for most of the nightcap but would not be denied.
"It was just one of those things where they keep coming back, keep coming back and you can't do anything about it," said Brown.
North Medford held a 3-2 lead with one out in the bottom of the seventh but Paul Turner came up with a clutch RBI single to plate Tanner Ryerson with the game-tying run.
The Black Tornado added a go-ahead run in the eighth inning when Josh Berman's two-out RBI single plated Brown but, again, Crater answered with a tying run to make it 4-4 after Zach Lathrop singled home pinch-runner Joey Caballero.
North Medford finally appeared to have taken command in the 11th inning with a three-run surge sparked by a one-out triple from Christian Gillis and consecutive RBI singles by Brown, Crofton and Jared Evans.
Amazingly, that 7-4 lead couldn't hold up against the Comets in the bottom half of the frame. Tyler Plankenhorn started things off with a single against Ragan — who won Tuesday's matchup 2-1 — and then Aplin added another single one out later. With two outs and an 0-1 count, Tibbets brought the home crowd to its feet with a three-run home run over the right field fence.
"I knew he was throwing me outside so that's what I was looking for," said Tibbets. "He elevated one and I crushed it. It was an absolutely amazing feeling keeping us in the ballgame."
Fox followed with an infield single and moved to second on a throwing error to open the door for more heroics, but Ragan slammed it right back on the Comets with an inning-ending pop-up.
With Fox on in relief for the second game on Saturday, he was able to battle back from a rough 11th inning to squash North Medford's scoring chances for the rest of the contest.
The Comets had their first chance to end it in the 13th inning denied when North Medford followed a double by Blake Fahndrich with an excellent relay from left fielder Brett Pearson to third baseman Berman and finally catcher Austin Zavala for an inning-ending tag out of Tibbets at the plate.
The Black Tornado used a double play on a liner to Gillis in center field to keep Crater at bay in the 14th, but there would be no more defensive magic in the 15th.
Aplin led off the final frame with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Turner that found both runners reaching their destination safely. Moments later, Tibbets provided his second walk-off hit of the season.
"Once we got (Aplin) to second, I just had basehit, basehit, basehit going through my head," said Tibbets. "All I was trying to do was get the ball out of the infield and hopefully into a gap."
"We just kept a positive attitude, thinking everyone on the team could get it done and we did," he added of what it took to persevere on Saturday. "One through nine we all hit the ball today."
Really for each team's lineup, one through nine — and beyond — seemed to come up big at some point Saturday.
"That's a game they're going to remember for a long time," said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. "That's two ballclubs willing to battle to the very end, and there was some good baseball played today by what I think are two pretty good ballclubs. We were just fortunate enough to keep battling and ended up finding a way to get it done in the end."
North Medford 000 200 1 — 3 6 0
Crater 000 304 x — 7 10 3
Westfall, Luzny (6) and Zavala; Bastendorff, Fox (6) and Aplin. W — Bastendorff (4-2). L — Westfall (6-2). 2B — C: Tibbets. 3B — C: Aplin. HR — C: Fahndrich (1).
North Medford 012 000 010 030 000 — 7 15 4
Crater 101 000 110 030 001 — 8 20 0
Crofton, Brown (7), Ragan (8) and Zavala; Pearce, Asher (4), Fox (9) and Aplin. W — Fox (3-1). L — Ragan (2-1). 2B — NM: Evans; C: Fahndrich 2. 3B — NM: Brown, Gillis. HR — C: Tibbets (6).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry