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CENTRAL POINT — Top-seeded Crater was dialed in early with a state semifinals berth on the line but Sheldon remained patient and confident, and the latter paid big dividends for the Irish during the final portion of Friday's Class 6A baseball game at Anhorn Field.
The Comets threatened to score in each of the first three innings and limited Sheldon to only one baserunner during that stretch to build a 2-0 lead, but the Southern Oregon Hybrid champions simply couldn't close the door on the defending champions from Eugene.
Sheldon finally managed to solve the riddle put forth by Crater senior pitcher Nolan Bastendorff midway through the state quarterfinal and ultimately broke the game open with a six-run fifth-inning surge to win going away, 8-3.
The Irish (22-8) will host Hillsboro in Tuesday's semifinals after the Spartans (14-14) continued their late-season surge with a 2-1 win at Clackamas on Friday. The other semifinal will see SOH runner-up North Medford (25-4) play host to Tualatin (24-5).
"We jumped on them early and we knew we had to do that," said Crater senior Ty Fox, "but the game of baseball doesn't go your way all the time. It happens. You've got to give them credit."
Bastendorff and his nasty curveball appeared destined for most of the credit, with the lanky 6-foot-6 right-hander striking out five in the first three innings against only one ball hit beyond the shortstop. With Tyler Plankenhorn plating Joey Caballero in the second and Fox driving in Paul Turner in the third, the game definitely seemed to be going Bastendorff's way early on.
"He was throwing really well early and he definitely kept us off guard," said Sheldon senior Mitchell Herbert. "I think we just knew that if we kept with it and we made sure to not have any called third strikes on us and put the ball in play, we could do some damage."
That moment finally came with one out in the fourth inning when David Bellamy slapped a single right under Bastendorff for the Irish's first hit. Herbert followed in similar fashion before Bastendorff slowed the momentum with his sixth strikeout. Levi Rotherham followed with a line drive to left field that Bellamy attempted to score on from second but he was easily erased for the third out at the plate by a strong throw from Blake Fahndrich to Tyler Aplin.
Although his team came up empty in the fourth, Herbert said it was an important inning for the Irish.
"That was definitely tough, we wanted a run there, but that gave us hope," said Herbert, who finished 2-for-4 with one run and two RBIs. "We knew that we could hit the ball and we could score runs on these guys, and that's what we did the next inning."
The fifth inning started innocently with a single to left field by Justus Adams and then got hairy for the Comets (23-7), with Sam Olsson's tapper up the line touched in fair territory by Fox charging from third base and the catcher reaching safely. Justin Herbert followed with a sacrifice bunt attempt that ultimately loaded the bases when his popped-up effort fell just beyond the stretching effort of first baseman Taylor Tibbets.
"Baseball's a funny game and we just didn't get the bounce there when we needed it," said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. "There was a ball on the line that we touch and it was fair, and then we have the right bunt play on and we're a step away from, really, a double play and that whole inning's done. That's the game of baseball, sometimes it doesn't go your way and today was one of those days."
Kellen Strahm's sacrifice fly to center field cut Sheldon's deficit to 2-1 and, after a groundout by Matt Land advanced runners to second and third, Bellamy was intentionally walked to load the bases. On the next pitch, Mitchell Herbert laced a drive over the shortstop for a two-run single. Seconds later, Taylor Frost took the next pitch from Bastendorff over the left-center field fence for a three-run home run and 6-2 advantage.
"Nolan was pitching his heart out and giving it all he had but sometimes they just get hold of one or two," said Fox.
Sheldon tacked on two more runs in the sixth inning before Crater managed to get one run back in the bottom of the frame behind a one-out double by Fox and RBI groundout by Caballero but that was all the Comets could muster in a season built on comeback victories.
"The kids accomplished so much," said Campbell. "The ball didn't bounce their way tonight but I was proud of them. It's a good group of kids and they did some pretty amazing things the last few years playing Crater baseball."
In the midst of tearful goodbyes among the senior-laden Comets, Fox most certainly agreed.
"From summer ball to now, we did so many great things and we definitely left an imprint on Crater baseball for years to come and for the younger guys," said Fox. "All around it was just a fun time with hard-working guys doing what we love to do. The memories we have with each other will never go away."
Sheldon 000 062 0 — 8 9 1
Crater 011 001 0 — 3 5 1
Brancato and Olsson; Bastendorff, Pearce (6) and Aplin. W — Brancato (10-2). L — Bastendorff (8-4). 2B — C: Fox. HR — S: Frost (7).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry