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Crater settles for split with Roseburg

The Comets and Indians remain tied for second in the Southern Oregon Conference standings

CENTRAL POINT - No matter the elements, a Southern Oregon Conference softball sweep is a difficult task this season.

Coaches proclaim the conference as balanced and tough as it has ever been, and Crater and Roseburg added credence to that notion Saturday with a hard-fought - and hard-to-finish - doubleheader split at Crater High.

The Comets took Game 1, 5-2, thanks to a four-run fourth inning. But the Indians survived two weather delays, a two-run Crater rally in its final at-bat and all-around miserable conditions to escape with Game 2, 3-2 in nine innings.

The teams remain deadlocked in second place at 7-3 in the SOC, two games back of 9-1 North Medford. Crater is 16-3 overall, while seventh-ranked Roseburg is 14-4.

"We've split the last three weekends," said first-year Comets head coach Chris Arnold, whose squad rattled off 12 consecutive wins to start the season.

"That's a great testament to the parity in this league. Everybody has a pitcher or two. Defensively, teams are pretty sound. It's just a real good league."

Despite fits of rain, hail and chilly wind, Game 2 was a memorable battle.

Crater freshman Janelle Cristofaro and Indians junior Brooke Charles pitched zeroes through four innings before Roseburg finally broke through in the top of the fifth.

Junior Laura Mitchell led off with a single to center field and moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt from junior Shelley Hansen. Following a pop out and a walk, junior Megan Ruhn stepped in as a pinch hitter and blooped a single to shallow left field.

With Mitchell racing around third, a play at the plate was in the making until the Comets' left fielder overran the ball. Mitchell scored without a throw to make it 1-0.

In the bottom of the inning, Crater threatened to tie, but sophomore Rachel Baker, a pinch runner for Cristofaro, was gunned down at the plate for the third out. After junior Crystal Huntley's grounder skipped past the Indians' shortstop and into center field, Hansen picked it up and fired a strike to junior catcher Cari Schruth to preserve Roseburg's 1-0 edge.

The Indians pocketed an important insurance run in the seventh, as sophomore Allison Rader, untroubled by a hastening downpour, knocked home Hansen with a run-scoring single.

Crater put its first two batters on base in the bottom of the seventh, prompting Roseburg head coach Craig Munion to insert freshman Kim Posey for Charles on the mound before the game was delayed by a hail storm.

When play resumed, Posey retired two straight to bring the Comets to their final out.

With the fans and perhaps even the players eagerly anticipating getting out of the rain, up stepped Huntley.

On Posey's first offering, Huntley smashed a laser into the right-center field gap to plate both sophomore Jenni Bittle and freshman Justine Bettencourt and tie it at 2-2.

"It was freezing," said Huntley, a first baseman who ended up with her second double of the game on the play. "It was so cold, I couldn't feel my hands. But you have to put in 100 percent all the time and hope that it comes out for you. You just put it in play, and hopefully, good things will happen."

Arnold said Huntley has been clutch all spring.

"She's the leader in RBIs, extra-base hits - she's just having a season," Arnold said.

Huntley was stranded at second, and the teams moved on to muddy, wet extra innings.

Bittle, the Game — winner, replaced Cristofaro on the mound to begin the eighth, and she had control problems from the get-go.

After stranding runners on second and third in the eighth, the Indians struck in the ninth. Hansen drew a leadoff walk and made her way to third with two outs.

Bittle induced a pop-up from Denay Martin, but as Bittle moved toward the first-base line to glove the third out, the ball jarred loose and Hansen scored. Adding to the play's strangeness, Bittle tried to nail a hustling Martin at second base, but her throw sailed wildly into right field. That's where junior Kelsey Anhorn ran the ball down, turned and fired to drill Martin at home plate for the inning's third out.

Posey (1-0) was up to the task in the bottom of the ninth, ensuring Crater would not rally again and earning her first varsity victory.

"There's no easy games," said Munion, in his third year at Roseburg, of the SOC. "Every weekend's a tough one. I mean, every game is tough."

In Game 1, Bittle (8-3) outdueled Indians senior ace Sara Jones (6-2). Bittle allowed just three hits and two unearned runs, while the Comets used RBI singles from Bittle, junior Angie Wright and senior Leann Foster to spark a four-run fourth that proved to be the difference.

"(Bittle) threw a great game," Arnold said of the Game — win. "That was one of the best games - if not the best - she's thrown all year.

"We knew going in it was going to be a war. ... I bet anybody who wasn't interested in softball and watched these games, I bet now they are. Because that was just awesome."

FIRST GAME

Roseburg .......................................... 110 000 0 - 2 — 3Crater ............................................... 000 401 x - 5 5 3

Jones, Charles (4) and Schruth; Bittle and Thomas. W - Bittle. L - Jones (6-2).

SECOND GAME

Roseburg ...................................... 000 010 101 - — 3 1Crater ........................................... 000 000 200 - 2 4 5

Charles, Posey (7) and Schruth; Cristofaro, Bittle (8) and Thomas. W - Posey (1-0). L - Bittle (8-3). 2B - C: Huntley 2.

Reach reporter Tim Pyle at 776-4483 or e-mail tpyle@mailtribune.com