CENTRAL POINT — All the composure Chris Painter worked so hard to develop in the offseason for a successful senior baseball campaign at Crater High went out the window Thursday night.

CENTRAL POINT — All the composure Chris Painter worked so hard to develop in the offseason for a successful senior baseball campaign at Crater High went out the window Thursday night.

Sure, it may have looked like the left-handed pitcher was in charge on the mound as he went about denying the heart of the Westview lineup but, inside, Painter was anything but calm.

With the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the sixth inning as his team clung to a 5-3 lead, Painter struck out the side, including Oregon signee and major league prospect Carson Kelly. He allowed a walk in the seventh before setting down the next three batters to secure his third save for the surprising Comets, who are 6-0 overall and 3-0 in Southern Oregon Hybrid play.

"I usually don't get nervous before games but last night the nerves were going," Painter, 18, said Friday. "But just getting up there, doing what I do, keeping people off balance and striking out the whole side was probably the most craziest feeling I've ever had. I've never had a rush like that before. You strike out Carson Kelly and the whole bunch like that, I was freaking out."

Crater fans might as well be freaking out themselves over Painter's exploits thus far. In 13 innings, he hasn't allowed a run while striking out 18 against five walks and three hits. He pitched a two-hit shutout against South Medford and is 1-0 with three saves.

"Right now, I think he's our most consistent pitcher and we're just trying to find ways to utilize the guy the best we can to get wins," said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. "Obviously, going in we thought he'd be a starter and he still might be. But the situations we were in when our starters got into the fifth and sixth innings and their pitch counts were high opened up some other opportunities for him."

Whether it's as a starter or closer, Painter said he's just happy to be given the ball with a chance to help his team.

"It's been a pretty cool year; it's been fun," he said. "I thought I was just going to be the starter and a reliever every once in a while, but I'm liking where I'm at right now, that's for sure."

Painter actually was in line to be the starter for Thursday's game against Westview, last year's Class 6A state champion, but he was needed to close out Wednesday's 5-2 win over Lakeridge. He delivered 32 pitches to get through the final two innings in the win over the Pacers, and used the same amount of pitches to deny the Wildcats, albeit under more intense circumstances.

"That's an experience for me I'll never forget because that was crazy," said Painter. "It felt really good."

"You can definitely build off something like that," he added. "I think it gave me more confidence. Once you do something, it feels like you'll be able to do it again and have more confidence when you're put in that position. I went into that nervous, but next time I'll probably not be as nervous."

Painter and fellow senior Matt Preston are the only Crater pitchers who saw action last season, and even that was limited to roles as the Nos. 3 and 4 hurlers for a Comet team that went 10-17 overall and finished last in the SOH at 5-11.

Both worked extremely hard in the offseason, said Campbell, to help ensure that the Comets didn't repeat their role as the No. 5 team in a five-team conference. For Painter, that meant working twice a week for three months with Cole Rohrbough, who is a former North Medford High standout currently in the Atlanta Braves organization.

"The neat thing about that is Cole's a lefty and Chris is a lefty, and a lot of times that's real helpful for a kid when you're working with someone that kinda understands and knows what it feels like to be a lefty," said Campbell.

Painter said Rohrbough definitely helped with a new grip for his changeup and on other parts of his mechanics, but the real impact came from discussing the mental aspect of the game.

"It helped a lot for me to work with him, just with all his experience," said Painter. "He tuned me up a little bit and gave me the mind-set that I should have and told me baseball is all about staying focused and having an open mind."

Beyond the addition of a nasty changeup to go with a steady fastball and curveball, Painter said the biggest change from last season has been in his focus.

"Last year, I'd go up there and I'd be super nervous and I wouldn't be focused," he said. "I learned a lot about that this summer, and that's just carried over and helped me because being focused is the No. 1 thing for me."

Campbell said assistant coach Tony Cobb has also helped with the development of the Crater pitchers, and Painter has definitely taken to heart his role with the Comets.

"Before the season, I worked really hard with everything and when I got into the season, I set some goals for myself to not lose a game this year," he said. "I want to do the best I can every time out. It's my senior year and I'm going out with a bang, that's just been my mind-set."

Helping make that happen, according to Painter, has been a stout defense behind him and run support each time out. The Comets allowed an average of almost seven runs per game last year and have cut that figure in half, complementing an offense led by Corey Wynant, Sebastian Reynolds, Evan Erskine and Blake Fahndrich that's scoring about eight runs per game.

"It's nice this year having a defense I can really trust," said Painter, a 5-foot-101/2, 165-pounder. "Being on the mound and having that trust makes you 10 times a better pitcher."

"Team unity means a lot to me, too," he added. "I like having a good, tight team and that's what we have this year and look at how we're doing. We were picked to finish last (in the preseason SOH coaches' poll) and we're 6-0 now. It's all about team unity and having that brotherhood."

It doesn't hurt that Painter has the tools to succeed when he's called on to pitch.

"He got his velocity up from last year but what's really making him so strong right now is he's able to throw three pitches and command the zone," said Campbell. "When he's able to do that, he's pretty tough because he's got some good movement on his pitches."

Painter couldn't agree more, noting the night-and-day difference between what he's able to do this season compared to previous years.

"Having all three pitches every game is a lot different than just having a fastball and a curveball," he said. "You may think two pitches are enough but no way, you don't know what it's like until you have three. It just keeps the batters off balance because they never know what's coming."

And even though his changeup is the newest tool in his arsenal, it's already paid big dividends for Painter, who struck out Kelly with three such pitches.

"I'd have to say it's probably my best pitch right now," he said. "It worked out pretty well for me (Thursday)."

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry