CENTRAL POINT — Crater junior Larson Kindreich had just struck out the 10th of his 11 batters faced Wednesday … and he was being taken off the mound.
That’s how in command the second-seeded Comets were against visiting Hillsboro during the opening round of the Class 5A baseball state playoffs at Anhorn Field.
Sebasten Boivin gave Crater an early lead with a two-run home run in the second inning and the Comets batted around in the third inning to create an unusual circumstance in what would ultimately become a 21-1 victory over the 15th-seeded Spartans.
“I’ve never done that before,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell of lifting Kindreich after 43 pitches in a dominant showing. “It was a hard decision. Obviously he was in a zone and throwing the ball really well and mixing and able to hit spots. But he’s a team guy and he knows what’s at stake and what we plan to do. We thought we were going to be able to score some more runs so we thought it was a good opportunity to take advantage.”
And take advantage the Comets did — over and over again in a rematch of last year’s first-round playoff game that saw them eke out a 4-3 decision. Crater led 7-0 through three innings, tacked on eight more runs in the fourth and then kept pouring it on by amassing 24 hits against four Hillsboro pitchers.
The Comets (24-4) will next play host to Putnam, a 6-1 winner over Corvallis, in Friday’s 5A quarterfinals.
“They’re just a good hitting team,” said Hillsboro head coach Matt Bailie, whose team finished 13-14 overall. “We threw some good pitches and they hit the ball very well, obviously, today.”
It was the first live action for Crater since a tuneup game for the state playoffs one week ago against Henley and the Comets showed no signs of rust with seven players notching at least two hits and every player in the lineup driving in at least one run.
“We came out feeling good and weren’t trying to do too much,” said Boivin, who finished 2-for-4 with four runs and two RBIs. “We were just trying to square balls up and put balls in play and today we were able to find gaps and get some runs across.”
After Kindreich struck out the side for the second straight inning, it was Boivin who really got things going for Crater with his liner over the left-center field fence against Hillsboro junior Curran Mitzel, who also got the start in last year’s playoff matchup. Senior Jace Godley had singled with one out prior to Boivin’s at-bat, and the designated hitter was dialed in for what he was looking to do.
“I was just trying to get (Godley) over so we could get a run across because at that point we had no runs,” said Boivin. “I was just trying to get something started. It felt good off the bat but you never know so I was running for a double until coach (Jim) Powell said, ‘Oh, that’s gone.’”
Although it was early in the contest, Campbell considered Boivin’s blast a pivotal one for his team.
“When you get into the playoffs, it’s always a little tense and you never know how kids are going to respond,” said Campbell, whose team finished as co-champions in the Midwestern League with Churchill. “That hit right there putting the two runs up when Larson was throwing like that, I think it just really took the lid off and the pressure that was on our club and from there we went pretty hard at it.”
Capping off a perfect run through Hillsboro’s order with nine strikeouts against the first nine batters, Kindreich opened the third with a single and, with one out, the floodgates opened for Crater to plate five more insurance runs. Nick Bastendorff’s towering fly ball to right field was lost in the sun, resulting in an RBI triple, and senior catcher Sean Bartlett followed with an RBI single. After Godley walked and Boivin singled to load the bases, Jake Ireland ripped a three-run double to left-center to force a pitching change.
It was 7-0 when Mitzel attempted to catch Crater napping with a first-pitch bunt attempt in the top of the fourth but third baseman Shay Hall easily hauled in the popped-up effort. When Kindreich struck out King for the second out of the inning, Campbell paid a lengthy trip to the mound before making the move to pull Kindreich and insert Trae Frodge.
For his part, Kindreich had no qualms with the move — one of many Crater made from that point to remain under the pitch count limits imposed this season. Maintaining flexibility with the pitching staff while getting an out or two under their belts caused Campbell to utilize six pitchers overall.
“I’m here to help my team win,” said Kindreich, “that’s the ultimate goal to win games, especially here in the postseason. If there’s a way I can help my team I’m going to do it.”
That said, there was no denying Kindreich felt on top of his game Wednesday. Of striking out the first nine batters and 10 of 11 overall, the left-hander said: “I’ve never had anything like that before. That was pretty special.”
“The playoff atmosphere was awesome and Sean and I were just working great together,” added Kindreich. “I don’t think I shook him off once, it was great, we had really good chemistry.”
While all was going Crater’s way, Hillsboro struggled with the elements at Anhorn Field. The Spartans let six potential flyball outs land safely in the contest after losing the ball in the sun or misjudging the wind and finished with two errors overall in allowing the Comets to string together long scoring surges.
“We only had (two) errors on the board but there was probably six or seven other balls misplayed,” said Bailie, “and when you give up seven outs in an inning, you’re not going to win many games.”
Senior Jake Cartwright had a three-run home run in the fifth inning and finished 5-for-6 with two runs and four RBIs for Crater, while Kindreich was 4-for-5 with four runs and three RBIs and Ireland 3-for-5 with one run and three RBIs. Also for the Comets, Bastendorff was 3-for-6 with two runs and two RBIs, Bartlett 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs and Godley 3-for-3 with four runs and one RBI.
“Everybody had a hit today and all the pitchers threw very well,” said Boivin. “When all that stuff’s clicking, it’s hard not to win.”
Hillsboro scored its lone run in the fifth inning when Mitzel drew a bases-loaded walk from Jacob Swartwout after Josh O’Neal and Cohen Johnson had previously singled off Frodge. In all, Crater pitchers notched 15 strikeouts in the runaway win.
Mitzel, Hildner (3), Littlejohn (5), Mecham (6) and Eichstadt; Kindreich, Frodge (4), Swartwout (5), Croft (6), Boivin (6), Ireland (7) and Bartlett, Gilliland (6). W — Kindreich (10-1). L — Mitzel (2-4). 2B — C: Ireland 2, Kindreich, Bastendorff. 3B — C: Bastendorff. HR — C: Boivin (3), Cartwright (1).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry