CENTRAL POINT — When it comes to the postseason in softball, you can expect to find Crater penciled in somewhere on the bracket.

CENTRAL POINT — When it comes to the postseason in softball, you can expect to find Crater penciled in somewhere on the bracket.

The Comets locked up their 12th straight state playoff appearance this season behind a 23-3 overall record and an 11-1 mark en route to winning the Southern Sky Conference.

The state semifinals, a place Crater reached two years ago, is the deepest run for the school.

The Comets are hoping to go above and beyond that mark this time around in the first-ever Class 5A postseason.

Crater opens with a first-round home game against Hillsboro today at 5 p.m.

Hillsboro (21-5) finished second in the Northwest Oregon Conference behind Glencoe.

"We don't know a lot about them," says Crater coach Chris Arnold. "They were in that first spot (in league) for a long time this year, and they were rated No. 1 in the state for a while."

In other first-round games involving SSC teams today, Eagle Point hosts Marshall at 4 p.m. and Ashland visits Glencoe at 4:30 p.m.

Crater brings strong pitching — senior hurler Ashleigh Cuddie is 18-1 — and a dangerous hitting attack, led by senior catcher Susan Winningham, into its first-round contest.

Winningham does a little of everything as the Comets' lead-off hitter. She is second on the team with a .471 average — Haley Hevern leads the way at .476 — and has a team-best 41 hits. Winningham has also produced 20 RBIs, team highs in stolen bases (12), runs (29), slugging percentage (.793) and home runs (5), the latter of which is a school single-season record.

"She's definitely a big-game player," Arnold says of Winningham. "She really gets it done and is such a competitor."

The three-year varsity player also has a number of key hits that lifted Crater to a 6-1 record in one-run games this season.

"Susan is a very even-keeled performer," says Arnold. "She has come up huge for us on a number of occasions."

Arnold also points to a strong senior class that has helped lift the Comets to a successful season.

Winningham, Cuddie, Hevern (shortstop), outfielder Kristen Haga and utility player Becca Lokeno have "been a really strong group that has given unbelievable leadership to this team," says Arnold. "They had a clear vision of what this team should look like and have never wavered with what their goals have been this season."

Although Arnold knows what to expect from his senior-led squad, some other teams in the 5A playoff field are still a mystery.

While there are several familiar, formidable foes like Churchill gracing the now-16-team bracket, many of the squads are an uncertainty.

"Hillsboro is having a great year," Arnold says, "and Churchill of course — that program has such great tradition. West Albany and The Dalles have also done a nice job this season.

"But of the 40 teams in 5A, 20 of those are playoff teams. So there are a lot of unknowns."

MARSHALL AT EAGLE POINT — Eagle Point secured its first state berth since the 1997 season behind the arm of senior Kirsten Emigh and the bat of Terrah Whipple.

The Eagles (18-8), the SSC's No. 2 seed, take on a young Marshall (15-11) team that took second in the 5A Portland Interscholastic League.

"They start four freshmen and have a freshman pitcher (Samantha Edwards)," says EP coach Keith Williams. "I know they don't hit the ball real well, but they have some speed at the top of the order. If they do get on base, they'll be a strong threat to steal."

Edwards will square off against Emigh, who is 13-4 on the season. The senior EP pitcher has also been helped by a near-flawless performance from the Eagle Point defense.

"Our pitching has been solid and our defense has definitely been good," Williams says. "Our strikeout-to-walk ratio is something like 7-to-1, so we're not giving up a lot of extra runners."

The Eagles have plenty of experience with six seniors in the starting lineup. None, however, has experienced the postseason.

"It's pretty much a veteran crew," says Williams. "Not in the playoffs, but this is kind of a loose group. They seem to be playing their best right now and that's what you want."

ASHLAND AT GLENCOE — Ashland nailed down its first-ever playoff victory last Friday with a 5-1 win over Silverton.

The sledding gets tougher today, however, when the Grizzlies (14-13), the SSC's third seed, visit Northwest Oregon Conference champion Glencoe.

The Crimson Tide (20-6) closed the regular season on a 10-game winning streak and enters the contest today coming off a first-round bye.

Sophomore pitcher Bella Pribyl, who improved to 13-10 after tossing a five-hitter against Silverton, will take the mound against Glencoe.

Reach reporter Kevin Goff at 776-4483, or e-mail kgoff@mailtribune.com