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Crater advances to semis

CENTRAL POINT — Sarah Haga had never hit a ball over the fence — not even in practice — at Don Faber Memorial Field. That is until Friday's Class 5A softball state quarterfinals.

The Crater High freshman catcher belted her first varsity home run and the Comets effectively utilized the pitching tandem of Brittany Reeves and Breyanna Reed to advance into the state semifinals with a 6-2 victory against mistake-prone Churchill of Eugene.

Crater (20-8), which also defeated the Lancers in last year's quarterfinals en route to winning the state championship, will host The Dalles Wahtonka in Tuesday's semifinals. The Dalles Wahtonka, the Intermountain Conference champion, defeated Cleveland 3-1 in the quarters.

Haga surprised herself but not Crater coach Chris Arnold with her two-run, fifth-inning blast that gave the Comets a comfortable 6-2 lead.

Haga, whose foul ball fly went off the glove of left fielder Amy Stanton the pitch before, blasted a one-out, 1-2 pitch from Megan Peterson over the left-field fence. The homer also scored Reed, who had singled and went to third when a errant pickoff attempt got away from right fielder Amanda Blacklock for a two-base error.

"Gosh, that was not expected," said the thrilled Haga after the game. "When I got to first base I kinda paused because I didn't think it would go over.

Haga said the inside offering set up well for her swing: "If I could pick one pitch to hit that would be the one. I think I can get a lot of power if I can turn on it."

The Comets' eighth-year coach knew it was only a matter of time before Haga would put a ball out of the yard.

"Sarah is one of the strongest inside zone hitters on the team," said Arnold. "I know she has home-run power. She wasn't swinging for the fence, but has that kind of power."

While Crater played almost flawlessly, the second-ranked Lancers (20-7-1) made numerous fundamental mistakes.

Churchill had two base runners thrown out, didn't cover first on a sacrifice bunt and made three errors in the field. Two of the Lancers' errors came in the fatal fourth inning when the Comets scored three times to take a 4-2 lead.

"Hats off to Crater," Churchill coach Eric Leyba said. "Those kids are aggressive. They put pressure on a defense. It was the little things. In the playoffs, you can't make those kind of mistakes."

Crater junior pitcher Reeves got off to a shaky start. Reeves hit Sierra Lessel with the first pitch of the game, walked Peterson on four pitches then tossed a wild pitch that put runners on second and third with no outs. To Reeves' credit, she settled down and the Lancers ended up getting just one run on Stanton's one-out sacrifice fly.

"I was a little disappointed with the start," said Reeves. "It just made me focus more. I felt comfortable but I definitely had better games."

The Comets answered right back in the first when leadoff hitter Emily Morrill was hit by a pitch and Kayla Hopkinson drove a ball in the right-center field gap that scored Morrill from first.

The Lancers took a 2-1 lead in the fourth, but Crater capitalized on two errors to score three unearned runs.

Haga opened the rally with a line-drive single to left. Kara Perdue bunted the ball back to the mound, but Peterson could not get a handle on the ball and both runners were safe. Tara Ruvalcaba loaded the bases when no one covered first on her bunt to first baseman Ashley Mathers.

Then on Dennae Grant's bases-loaded grounder to shortstop Jordan Goschie, catcher Jessica Parmer dropped the throw home. Not only did Haga score, but Perdue scooted across the plate when the ball rolled out toward the mound. Ruvalcaba went to third and Grant to second as the Lancers stood around momentarily disorganized. Hopkinson knocked in Ruvalcaba with a sacrifice fly to center field to complete the outburst.

Arnold decided to bring in Reed to start the fifth as the Comets came in to bat in the bottom of the fourth. The junior Reeves (17-5) allowed two earned runs on four hits and struck out three in her pitching stint.

"Part of it is to give teams a different look," said Arnold of his decision to change pitchers. "Both girls have different strengths. At this point, we are going to have a short leash on either one of them."

Reed, a senior, was in line to be the Comet ace to start the season but an injured finger on her pitching hand sidelined her. Reed picked up the save by blanking the Lancers over the final three innings, allowing three hits and striking out two.

The Comets also received stellar defensive play from junior shortstop Sarah Smith, who doesn't bat in the lineup. Smith went deep in the hole twice to throw out Churchill runners at first to end innings.

"(Smith) is our defensive specialist," said Arnold. "She has consistently come up with big plays. Sometimes she feels, because she's not hitting, that she's not contributing enough."

Crater collected 10 hits off Peterson, who finished the season with a 20-6 record for the Midwestern League champions.

"I liked the way the kids battled back," concluded Arnold. "When we were behind we didn't let that affect our focus."

Churchill 100 100 0 — 2 7 3

Crater 100 320 x — 6 10 1

Peterson and Parmer; Reeves, Reed (5) and Haga. W — Reeves (17-5). L — Peterson (20-6). 2B — Chu: Parmer; Cra: Hopkinson. HR — Cra: Haga (1).

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 776-4480, or e-mail fsilow@mailtribune.com