CENTRAL POINT — Crater came out with a flurry and then leaned on senior pitcher Neil Bastendorff to open the Class 5A baseball state playoffs with a 4-3 victory over Hillsboro Wednesday at Anhorn Field.
After Bastendorff sat the 14th-seeded Spartans down in order in the top of the first inning, the No. 3-seeded Comets showed patience and a little pop at the plate to bat around for all the runs they would need in order to advance to the quarterfinals.
“That was a big momentum swing to start the game and really helpful,” said Bastendorff, who improved to 6-3.
Crater (20-8) will next play host to Churchill at Anhorn Field Friday in a matchup that carries few secrets. The Comets won two of three against the Lancers (19-8) en route to the Midwestern League title, scoring 4-3 and 3-2 triumphs to offset a 3-1 loss.
Churchill, which tied Ashland for third in the MWL, beat La Salle Prep 6-1 on Wednesday.
“The first round is always a tough one,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. “Like I told the kids, getting the win in the first one is all that matters. There’s no style points or runs that carry over to the next round. You just win and get the opportunity to play Friday.”
Jake Cartwright got things headed in that direction for Crater against Hillsboro (10-18) by drawing a four-pitch leadoff walk against sophomore left-hander Curran Mitzel. Nick Bastendorff and Caine Smith followed with singles to load the bases for Neil Bastendorff, who drew a run-scoring walk as Mitzel battled early jitters.
Sean Bartlett kept the parade going with an RBI single over the glove of second baseman Evan Nelson and, after Jace Godley drew a run-scoring walk, Jake Ireland ripped an RBI single over the head of shortstop Damon Peters for a 4-0 advantage.
“We came out pretty jacked up it seemed like and it showed,” said Campbell. “That first inning we had some real good approaches and we put some good swings on some balls to really put some pressure on them. We would’ve like to add more throughout the game but (Mitzel) got stronger as the game went on and he did a nice job of keeping us off-balance.”
In fact, after seeing Crater bat through its lineup in the first inning, Mitzel allowed only one hit and two walks thereafter, facing only one batter over the minimum through the final five innings. Mitzel had entered the postseason with a 4-0 record and 0.96 ERA before pitching 4⅔ solid innings in an 8-7 play-in win over Bend last Friday.
“He came out in a little different atmosphere — now you’re in the state tournament and you’re seeded — and he was nervous, I think, a little bit,” said Hillsboro head coach Matt Bailie, whose team had won nine of its previous 12 games. “That first inning showed that but obviously we saw the next five innings what type of ballplayer the kid is. As a sophomore being able to bounce back from that and maintain that composure and go out and battle, he shut out a very good team those final five frames.”
Bastendorff was just as effective but the Spartans were able to capitalize on the few opportunities they had against him. Nelson’s leadoff single in the first inning was followed by a passed ball and a pair of groundouts to help Hillsboro score its first run.
Hillsboro tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning to pull within 4-3, with another leadoff single by Cohen Johnson followed by Bastendorff’s only walk of the contest. A sacrifice bunt, passed ball and RBI groundout followed against Bastendorff, who allowed only one hard-hit single in the contest and sat the Spartans down in order in four innings.
“He did a great job just keeping them off-balance,” said Campbell. “He was able to throw breaking pitches early in the count and anytime you’re able to do that against a high school team, it makes it tough to hit. That’s what we expect out of him. He definitely bulldogged up for us and had a good outing.”
Bastendorff was supported by several highlight plays on defense by junior third baseman Shay Hall, who had six assists, and steady work by shortstop Nick Bastendorff and first baseman Ireland.
“I felt strong as ever out there and I had a big wall of confidence behind me with my team,” said Neil Bastendorff.
Bartlett finished 2-for-3 with one RBI to pace the Comets on offense.
Mitzell and Lusey; Bastendorff and Smith. W — Bastendorff (6-3). L — Mitzell (5-1).
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