North, Crater split, eye playoff
Mail Tribune / Drew Fleming
Many of the faces were new compared to one year ago, when Crater and North Medford squared off for the Class 4A state baseball championship.
Graduation had taken a heavy toll on both teams.
But that didn't stop the traditional high school baseball powers from playing another game - or two - against each other with championship implications .
This time, it was the Southern Oregon Conference title that was at stake. Both teams went into Saturday's doubleheader at Miles Field tied for first place with 8-4 records and were part of a four-way logjam at the top of the standings with Ashland and South Medford.
When the dust settled, Crater and North Medford tied for second place and will meet one more time - Tuesday at 4 p.m. at Anhorn Field in Central Point - to determine the SOC's No. 2 and No. — state playoff berths. Tuesday's winner gets a home game in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser must travel.
Junior left-hander Brent Kircher fired a three-hitter in leading the Black Tornado to an 8-1 victory in Saturday's opening game, but the resilient Comets fought back for a 9-5 victory in Game 2.
The split left both teams with 9-5 records in the SOC. Crater is now 21-6 overall, while North Medford is 15-10.
"This entire season has been a knock-down, drag-out battle for our kids," said Crater coach Chuck Dominiak, whose team lost seven starters from a year ago when it beat North Medford, 5-2, in the state championship game.
"It's like we've been out in the ocean for the last three months and every time we turn around, here comes another storm. Our ship has taken on a lot of water but, dang it, we haven't sunk yet."
The Comets led Saturday's second game 5-3 after four innings, then started to take on some water. North Medford scored a run in the fifth and another in the sixth to forge a 5-5 tie.
With pitcher Derek Petersen seemingly running out of energy - he threw 4? innings in Game — and was summoned to the mound in the first inning of Game 2 - the Comets looked to be in trouble.
But Petersen persevered and Crater roughed up Tornado reliever Evan McArthur for four runs and five hits in the top of the seventh to win going away.
"My arm's a little sore - I'm going to ice it as soon as I get home," said Petersen, a junior right-hander who threw 63 pitches in the first game and 88 in the second for a total of 151. "But I'll be OK."
It was Petersen who ignited the seventh-inning rally with a one-out single. Craig Mulder, Levi Wisdom and David Sills followed with singles, bringing in one run, and Frank Drake followed with an RBI groundout.
Leadoff hitter Kenny Strate then capped the uprising with a two-run double to right.
"I got a curveball on the outside part of the plate and just went the other way with it," said Strate, one of the Comets' few returning starters from 2000.
"We huddled up late in the (second) game and just said, hey, we've worked too hard to let this thing get away. We haven't been swept all year and we weren't going to start today."
Strate also spanked a two-run double in the second inning and wound up going 3-for-5 with four RBIs in the second game.
Crater won the second game without normal Game 2 pitcher Chris Pettegrew, who pulled a hamstring while stretching for a throw at first base in Game 1.
Kircher, meanwhile, dominated Game 1. The junior left-hander yielded just three hits - all singles - and the only run he gave up was unearned.
"That's my best game this season," said Kircher, who improved his record to 7-2. "I had command of my change-up. It usually tails out of the strike zone, but today I was able to put it where I wanted to.
"You're not going to get guys out like Strate and (Jared) Maddocks with a steady diet of fastballs."
Kircher's outing was much different than last June, when Crater roughed him up for six hits and five runs in one inning in the state championship game.
"They probably don't have as many good hitters, but they've still got some guys who can knock it around the park," Kircher said. "It felt good to keep them off balance today."
North Medford wasted no time in getting Kircher some run support. The Tornado scored four runs on three hits in the first inning, including a leadoff double by Phil Ouellette, and added two runs in the second for a 6-0 lead.
Dustin Butler went 2-for-3 in the first game and Ouellette and McArthur each went 2-for-4.
North Medford coach Brett Wolfe obviously would have preferred a sweep Saturday and a piece of the SOC title. But he's looking forward to a third meeting with the Comets Tuesday at Anhorn Field.
"We'll gladly take another game before the state playoffs," he said. "The atmosphere will be no different than a state playoff game, and Crater is always a good test."
Crater................................................. 000 100 0 - — 3 2North Medford.................................. 420 020 x - 8 10 3
Petersen, Mulder (5) and Maddocks; Kircher and Folsom; W - Kircher (7-2). L - Petersen (7-3). 2B - NM: Ouellette, Butler, Zupan.
Crater...............................................130 100 4 - 9 15 2North Medford ...................................102 011 0 - 5 8 1
C. Mulder, Petersen (1) and Maddocks; Butler, McArthur (3) and Folsom. W - Petersen (8-3). L - McArthur (1-3). 2B - C: Strate, Gipson, Maddocks. 3B - C: Wisdom.