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Crater takes two in home debut

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No. 4-ranked Comets sweep MWL doubleheader against Willamette

CENTRAL POINT — Crater starting pitcher Alexis Perez couldn’t have drawn up how her first home start of the 2022 season went Wednesday afternoon.

Not only was it smooth sailing in the circle, it also didn’t take long for her to look up at the scoreboard and see a big number next to the Comets’ run total.

Perez allowed just two hits in four shutout innings and the Crater offense provided plenty of support as the fourth-ranked Comets beat Willamette 13-0 in five innings to open their Midwestern League doubleheader.

“It puts a lot of pressure off of my shoulders knowing that we have that many runs and I can just keep pitching,” said Perez, who improved to 3-1 this season.

Perez came in and shut the door on Willamette in what proved to be a back-and-forth Game 2, throwing the final 2 2/3 innings to help Crater (7-2, 4-0 MWL) hold on for a 12-7 win and complete the sweep.

“She was sharp and had some huge pitches for us,” said Crater head coach Chris Arnold. “We talked about the endurance needed for doubleheaders and it definitely wasn’t the strongest in that aspect for us. It took us definitely a little while to battle through that adversity in Game 2. We stayed the course in the second game.”

Crater, coming off a 3-2 showing during tournament play in Reno over the weekend, stayed hot at the plate and finished with 20 hits in the doubleheader.

Ten of those hits came in Game 1, with the Comets sporting Perez a 7-0 lead to work with after two innings.

All of those runs came in the bottom of the second, with the first three runs scoring on a pair of fielding errors by Willamette (0-3, 0-2). Alyssa Kilbane made it 5-0 with a two-run single up the middle before Kaylynn Wolchok and Maddie Sheadel each hit RBI singles, the latter coming with two outs.

“Our philosophy has always been to go big early — we want to press early on and take shots on the bases,” said Arnold, whose team sent 11 batters to the plate in the second inning. “Those big innings are really important. We definitely emphasize that. Instead of three, let’s get four, and when you’re rolling and when the baserunning is strong and the defense is making mistakes, let’s try and put up as many as we can.”

That proved to be plenty of room to work with for Perez, who was one of the Comets’ standout performers this past weekend in Reno and was on target from the start.

The first time through the Willamette lineup, the sophomore right-hander fell behind just one batter, throwing first-pitch strike after first pitch strike.

In total, Perez threw a first-pitch strike to 11 of the 13 batters she faced.

“It’s pretty big and something I always strive for,” said Perez of working ahead in the count. “You want to always get ahead because you want to have that one good pitch and then throw junk the rest of the time and get them to swing.”

In her four shutout innings, Perez faced just one over the minimum, as two of the three Willamette batters to reach base ended up being thrown out trying to steal second by Crater catcher Lilli Reid. Perez finished with four strikeouts — all of which came the first time through the Wolverines’ lineup — and one walk.

Megan Allen closed out Game 1 with a 1-2-3 top of the fifth.

“I know I can trust my team and I can trust my defense so that I don’t have to strike everybody out,” said Perez. “I have a defense behind me that I trust and my offense is able to pull through for me.”

Over her last three starts which span over 13 innings, Perez has allowed just five hits and two runs.

“Alexis has been doing a fantastic job for us,” said Arnold. “Down in the Reno tournament, she threw the best ballgame I’ve seen her throw (in a 2-0 loss to Spanish Springs). She gets ahead of hitters really nicely and also is around the plate. She has stuff, she moves the ball around, but she doesn’t walk many kids. She’s very confident in her abilities and she doesn’t get rattled very easily.”

Sheadel led the way offensively in Game 1, going 3-for-3 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored. Taylor Kenworthy was 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored, while Peyton Schwab was 1-for-1, scored three runs and also had the play of the game defensively with a diving catch in right field.

“I thought our discipline at the plate was great against (Willamette starting pitcher Imari Rose Gabica),” began Arnold, “but not so great against (relief pitcher Azjah Tocher). She was a little slower, we got a little bit out in front of our front foot, but we’ve been working on some things hitting-wise, too.”

Kilbane went 3-for-4 with a double, two stolen bases, two runs and an RBI in Game 2. Sophia Van Wey also went 3-for-4 with a double, three RBIs and scored a run.

Schwab and Kailee Davis both drove in a pair of runs for the Comets.

Crater continues its seven-game homestand Saturday when it hosts Sheldon (6-2) — which is ranked sixth in this week’s Class 6A coaches poll — in a 1 p.m. doubleheader.

“We’re off to a good start,” said Arnold. “Coming in, defensively I’m really excited about this group. We know that this year it’s going to be about what we do at the plate. That’s really what we’ve been working on, and in the practice pie chart with how much time we spend on things, we’re working on hitting. We’re hitting, hitting, hitting.”

FIRST GAME

Willamette00000—023

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Gabica, Tocher (3) and Evans; Perez, Allen (5) and Reid. W — Perez (3-1). L — Gabica. 2B — C: Sheadel.

SECOND GAME

Willamette1005100—774

Crater050610x—12104

Ireland, Gabica (4) and Evans; S. Foster, Sheadel (1), Allen (4), Perez (5) and Reid. W — Allen (2-0). L — Ireland. 2B — W: Tocher; C: Davis, Kilbane, Wolchok, Sheadel, Van Wey. 3B — W: Rush.

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Payton Schwab slides safely into home during the fourth inning of Game 1 on Wednesday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Alexis Perez delivers a strike during the third inning of Game 1 on Wednesday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Maddie Sheadel connects for an RBI double during the second inning of Game 1 on Wednesday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Kailee Davis connects for an RBI double during the second inning of Game 1 on Wednesday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Payton Schwab dives to make a catch and out during the second inning of Game 1 on Wednesday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail TribuneCrater's Kailee Davis tags out Willamette's Raigan Obie at second base during the fourth inning of Game 1 on Wednesday.