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...
Coming off an emotional sweep of North Medford on Saturday, Crater's baseball coaches and players spent the better part of the last two days discussing the importance of leaving the Southern Oregon Hybrid doubleheader in the past.
Unfortunately for host South Medford, the Comets did just that on Tuesday at Harry & David Field.
Crater senior pitcher Nolan Bastendorff was his typical steady self and the Comets used a pair of big innings to cruise past the Panthers, 8-1, and remain in contention for the SOH crown.
Bastendorff, who got the opening-game win in Saturday's doubleheader, allowed two hits through six innings, striking out five with one walk and one unearned run.
"We just kept our head in the game," said Crater senior Blake Fahndrich, "and just said that we've got to throw that (sweep of North Medford) behind us now because it's over with and now we've just gotta keep going."
With Roseburg's 9-4 home win over North Medford on Tuesday, Crater was able to remain a half-game out of first place in the SOH standings. The Indians (8-7, 4-0 SOH) and Comets (14-4, 3-1) won't square off until the final league series May 13 and 17.
North Medford (14-4, 4-3) dropped to third place in the SOH, two games ahead of South Medford (11-8, 2-5).
The Panthers did well to put pressure on Crater in the early going Tuesday, with starting pitcher Caleb Newman striking out five of his first six batters faced.
South Medford was even able to take a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Austin White reached on an error and, after a single by Jake Perry, courtesy runner Justin James came in to score on the Comets' second of four errors off a ball hit by Caleb Bell.
"We were hoping to maybe put a little scare in them," said Panthers head coach Ray Smith, "but Crater is certainly a very quality high school baseball team. When you give them opportunities, they kinda jumped on us there and took advantage of it."
Crater scored four runs in the third and seventh innings to counter the early threat, with all but one run coming with two outs on the scoreboard.
"That's been killing us," added Smith. "North got us that way and that's how Grants Pass got us, when we weren't able to finish. We just need to find a way to be able to finish games and get the job done."
That wasn't an issue across the field, where the Comets put runners on the bases in bunches and came through in the clutch, most notably with Fahndrich belting a pair of doubles to drive in five runs overall.
"We've got guys up and down the lineup that can do some damage and today was Blake's day," said Crater head coach Jay Campbell, whose team is No. 1 in the Class 6A power rankings and No. 4 in the 6A coaches' poll — two spots below North Medford. "He came up with guys in scoring position and delivered with a couple doubles. We wouldn't expect anything less out of him."
The Comets tied the game at 1-all in the third after Zach Lathrop reached on an error, was sacrificed to second by Tyler Plankenhorn and then scored on a single to center field by Tanner Ryerson. After Newman got a key strikeout of leadoff hitter Tyler Aplin, Crater wouldn't let him close the door and minimize the damage. Paul Turner supplied an RBI single that got through the left side of the infield and then another single by Taylor Tibbets and a walk to Ty Fox loaded the bases for Fahndrich.
Seizing the opportunity, Fahndrich sliced an offering down the right field line that just escaped the diving attempt by right fielder Ryan Carle and allowed two more runs to score to make it 4-1.
"Once people get on base you just go up and try to get a basehit anywhere you can and you've got to use the whole field," said Fahndrich. "I just tried to help the team out the best I could."
Fahndrich, a senior left fielder, said he knew from the batter's box that the short flare to right field was going to be in fair territory, but he had to hold his breath a little as Carle came charging in to try and make a play.
"It was a close one," said Fahndrich. "He was a quick outfielder and got there pretty fast and had a nice dive that was pretty close to it. That kinda scared me for a second but then I just kept running."
The seventh inning provided more of the same for the Comets, who got a one-out walk to Ryerson before again supplying some two-out magic. After Turner walked, Tibbets supplied an RBI single to close the book on Newman. Fox then drew a walk to load the bases again for Fahndrich, who laced a three-run double to the gap in left-center off James.
"I was just looking for the right pitch to hit and I found it," said Fahndrich
Fahndrich came on in relief of Bastendorff in the seventh and allowed only a double by Perry, who was thrown out at third on the play.
Pitching was certainly a question after the 22-inning twin bill Crater played Saturday, but Bastendorff handled the quick turnaround with ease to help set the tone for Crater. He needed just 52 pitches to get through his five innings against North Medford, and limited his pitches against the Panthers despite some uncharacteristic defensive miscues behind him.
"Nolan's mentally very strong and he's not going to let something like that bother him," said Campbell. "He knows what his job is and he's just going to try to get the guy on the next pitch."
"He showed a lot of composure and gave us a great outing," added the coach. "He was around the zone and kept them off balance."
Newman finished with eight strikeouts, three walks and six hits allowed in 62/3 innings. Of the seven runs against him, only three were earned.
"Caleb did a good job of giving us an opportunity to compete with them," said Smith. "We've just got to find a way to be consistent for seven innings in our approach. When you give up four runs in two different innings, something didn't go quite right."
Crater 004 000 4 — 8 7 4
South Medford 010 000 0 — 1 3 1
Bastendorff, Fahndrich (7) and Aplin; Newman, James (7) and White. W — Bastendorff (5-2). L — Newman (3-3). 2B — C: Fahndrich 2; SM: Perry.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry