CENTRAL POINT — It’s not always going to be a 21-1 blowout, and it’s a good thing Crater’s baseball team is equipped to handle matters when the pressure is on.
Two days after the second-seeded Comets opened the Class 5A baseball state playoffs with a 21-1 win over Hillsboro, visiting Putnam supplied Crater with a fairly stressful day of baseball Friday — but the end result remained the same at Anhorn Field.
Crater senior Jace Godley smacked an RBI triple in the fifth inning for some breathing room and came in clutch once again with a two-run single in the sixth to help propel his team to a 4-1 win over the Kingsmen in the state quarterfinals.
“LIke I told the kids, it doesn’t matter how pretty it is,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell, whose team improved its record to 25-4. “I was proud of the kids because they found a way to win and at this point in the season, you’re just trying to find a way to win and move on.”
The Comets’ seventh straight win secured a spot in Tuesday’s semifinals, where they will play host to Crescent Valley. The third-seeded Raiders (25-4) beat Dallas 13-6 on Friday. The other semifinal will pit top-seeded Churchill against No. 5 Wilsonville.
The joy of reaching this point wasn’t lost on Godley, who was a key figure in last year’s state playoff run that was halted in the quarterfinals by Churchill. Since Crater won the Class 5A state championship in 2007, the Comets have fallen one win shy of the semifinal round four times: in 2013 and ‘14 at the 6A level and 2010 and last year at 5A.
“We’ve always told ourselves that we’re going to make it far this year as long as we do what we’re supposed to do,” said Godley, who was 2-for-4 with three RBIs. “Getting rewarded like this is really nice. Going off to the semifinals is a big step for us.”
The fact that it came with a little extra tension only made the celebration that much sweeter for Godley and crew after junior Larson Kindreich got himself out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh with a game-ending strikeout of Putnam cleanup hitter Kody Hall, who had homered off him one inning earlier.
“It’s just nice to have a close game like that because it keeps us on our toes and it keeps us humble so we don’t get ahead of ourselves or anything,” said Godley. “We’re just going to keep trying to win games and have fun, because every game that we win is a fun one.”
It may have ultimately been fun but it was a game largely in doubt throughout, mostly because neither team could come up with a breakthrough hit with runners in scoring position for the bulk of the contest. In all, Crater stranded 11 baserunners while Putnam (20-7) left nine on base.
“We had guys on first and second a good handful of times early on, through the middle of the game and even at the end there,” said Kingsmen head coach Chad McGowan, whose team had won nine straight games entering Friday, “we just didn’t come up with the one big one. They brought in their lefty and I know he’s their main guy and we were able to get to him and get guys on but it just wasn’t enough.”
Crater starting pitcher Sebasten Boivin tossed five shutout innings before turning the ball over to Kindreich. Boivin struck out six and allowed three hits with two hit batters and one walk. He was able to get out of a pair of jams thanks to some sound defensive work by third baseman Shay Hall, second baseman Hunter Grant and centerfielder Jake Cartwright.
The Comets struck in the second inning when Jake Ireland singled, moved to second on a groundout and then scored on a wild play that saw Hall bunt for a single and move to second when a late throw by pitcher Joey Geertsen went wide of first and down the right field line.
Godley supplied Crater with a much-needed insurance run in the fifth inning with his one-out triple after Sean Bartlett had singled off reliever Jordan Proudfoot. Pinch-runner Tyler Williams raced home ahead of Godley after his well-hit ball landed safely inside the right field line.
“I was just thinking right side on that because the gap was open on that right side line,” said Godley. “I just told myself that if I put something over there I’m going to get an RBI on this so I just did my normal swing and put one down the line and it ended up working out good, so that was nice.”
Hall breathed new life in the Kingsmen in the top of the sixth when he sent an 0-2 pitch off the scoreboard in left field to trim Putnam’s deficit to 2-1.
“He was in total command there 0-2 and we just missed a spot there and the kid put a good swing on it,” said Campbell.
Kindreich went on to strike out the side and, in the bottom of the sixth, was granted a cushion again by Godley after walks to Kindreich and Bartlett and a single by Cartwright loaded the bases. The same scenario had played out poorly one inning earlier when Grant ripped a shot back to Proudfoot and he started an inning-ending double play, but this time Godley’s hard hit up the middle escaped the right-hander and went into center field for a two-run single.
“When I hit that ball up the middle I was just hoping the pitcher didn’t pull off one of those snag it in the glove catches,” said Godley. “Once it got through I was pretty happy because that extended our lead right there and that was pretty nice.”
Added Campbell on the clutch performance: “It’s going to be a different guy each time I think, that’s been our motto all year long. Jace has had a great year and we have a ton of confidence in him to get the job done in that situation. He just picked the guy up that was in front of him and obviously had two huge hits there and kind of carried us offensively.”
Gritty to the end, Putnam got a leadoff hit in the seventh by Trygve Nordby and eventually loaded the bases with one out before a little chaos ensued on a wild pitch in the dirt that was blocked by Bartlett but he couldn’t quickly find in the nearby dirt.
Nordby took a chance and broke home on the play but Bartlett made a swift relay to Kindreich, who was covering at home plate, that had Nordby by a few steps before he crashed into the pitcher with his arms up and punched out the ball. The home plate umpire immediately ruled Nordby out for not sliding on the play and, despite McGowan’s objection, the ruling stood for the second out of the frame.
“It would be interesting to see what would’ve happened if we had the bases loaded and didn’t get the out at home,” said McGowan. “It would’ve been a good one with our four and five guys coming up, but oh well, we’ll never know.”
A little unnerved by the play, Kindreich walked the next batter to re-load the bases and bring up Hall, but this time with a vastly different result as he struck him out swinging.
“Larson’s a bulldog and you know he’s going to come through in the clutch there and he did,” said Campbell. “He made a huge pitch in that position and we’re moving on.”
That said, Campbell had plenty of respect for the job McGowan and company did in bringing a big-time challenge to the ballpark.
“That’s a scrappy club for sure,” said the coach. “You’ve got to tip your hat, their kids didn’t give in. Even when we went up 4-1 they came right back and battled in the seventh inning and made it interesting. Anytime you can get the tying run or the winning run to the plate in that situation, that’s a good thing when you’re a coach.”
And as a player, it’s a good thing to know you can win even without everyone spraying the baseball all over the park.
“On those days that we’re just not hitting good and we’re having a tough time,” noted Godley, “we’ve just got to keep pushing and keep swinging the bat like we know how and good things will happen eventually.”
Geertsen, Proudfoot (4), Hall (6) and Howell; Boivin, Kindreich (6) and Bartlett. W — Boivin (7-1). L — Geertsen. S — Kindreich. 2B — C: Ireland, Kindreich. 3B — C: Godley. HR — P: Hall.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry