CENTRAL POINT — Teams often talk about a family atmosphere, but it’s another thing entirely when actual family members help take the lead on fostering such a setting.
That’s been the case all season for the close-knit Crater baseball team, where brothers Neil and Nick Bastendorff have helped set the tone on and off the field for the Midwestern League champions.
“They kind of lend to really why our team has been successful this year,” says Crater head coach Jay Campbell. “We’re definitely not the most talented team that I’ve had and we don’t have some of the studs I’ve had in the past. But this might be one of the best teams I’ve had in terms of team chemistry and camaraderie, and I think having two brothers definitely lends itself to that kind of thing right now.”
Especially when those brothers are contributing in such a big way for the Comets (19-8), who open the Class 5A state playoffs at 4:30 p.m. today against Hillsboro (10-17) at Anhorn Field.
Neil Bastendorff, a 6-foot-3 senior pitcher and first baseman, carries a 5-3 record and 2.00 ERA as one of the team’s workhorses on the mound with junior Jacob Swartwout (6-2, 3.94 ERA). The older Bastendorff has also come up with several timely hits in batting .269 with 14 runs and 15 RBIs.
“Neil was our only returning starter and we knew we were going to kind of lean on him pretty hard to kind of be a leader for this team,” says Campbell. “He’s a hard worker and leads by example and he’s also been able to hit for us as well as play a good first base when not pitching.”
Nick Bastendorff, a 6-foot sophomore shortstop, has made a big splash in his first varsity season as the leading hitter among the Crater regulars with a .411 batting average to go with a team-best 28 runs and 18 RBIs.
“It kind of speaks to his character how well he’s been able to adjust,” says Campbell. “He’s worked hard on his swing and he just does a good job of hitting balls hard. He barrels the ball up real well. For a sophomore he’s got a bright future, for sure.”
All of it has helped make for a fantastic and fun spring so far for the Bastendorffs, whose older brother Nolan was also a standout pitcher at Crater High and is currently playing at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany.
“As a senior, it’s just great to go out with a bang and hopefully we can make a deep run in the playoffs, which has been a goal from Day 1,” says Neil. “Winning a conference title was a goal, too, and obviously we got to check that one off, but the hope is we’re not done yet.”
Nick Bastendorff says he had confidence that Crater could do big things this season, but even he has been impressed with how the Comets have been able to put together big efforts up and down the lineup in rising to challenges.
“We’ve really pulled through and become a better team than most people thought we could be so I’m pretty happy about that,” says Nick. “It’s great having a team where everybody has had a hot bat to pick up the pace and get runs on the board and put teams away.”
Also enjoying time in the spotlight this season have been juniors Jake Ireland (.387, 12 runs, 16 RBIs and 6-0, 1.94 ERA), Sean Bartlett (.266, nine runs, 17 RBIs), Jace Godley (.254, 10 runs, 13 RBIs) and Jake Cartwright (.247, 23 runs, 13 RBIs) and seniors Caine Smith (.329, 23 runs, 16 RBIs) and Hayden Deuel (.267, 15 runs, nine RBIs).
“It seems like it’s a different guy every night and it could be anybody on a given night,” Campbell says of the Comets’ versatility. “It really is a blue-collar team approach for us. There’s no ego, it’s a fun team to coach. They show up and know what’s expected and they’re willing to work. We’ve had a ton of guys step up in huge spots throughout the year to kind put us in the position we are right now.”
Two of those players just happen to share the same home.
“I don’t think we’d be quite as far as we would be right now if it weren’t for (Neil),” says Nick. “He has a lot of energy in the dugout and he picks everybody up when they’re down and just has that good vibe and good energy a team really needs to help us through ballgames.”
The key to Neil Bastendorff’s success has been his steady temperament, according to Campbell.
“He’s competitive on the mound and he has great mechanics and he doesn’t get rattled,” says the coach. “When you watch him throw you wouldn’t be able to tell if we’re up 10 or down 10. He has a good demeanor and that’s a good quality to have for a pitcher.”
Neil Bastendorff says having his brother for defensive support has added a new dimension to his experience on the mound.
“It’s been great having him as a shortstop behind me,” says Neil. “There’s nobody I trust more than him. Defensively and offensively he’s been consistent and he works hard and has had a positive attitude so far.”
Like any brothers, there were times when the duo clashed growing up but Neil says that’s a thing of the past.
“We had our beefs as kids, for sure, but we get along a whole lot better now these days,” he laughs.
In fact, Nick credits Neil for helping him transition to the varsity level so well this season.
“It’s helped quite a bit knowing that I’ve always got somebody that I can turn to even when I’m not at the baseball field,” says Nick. “I can walk down the hall at our house and talk to him about anything in general, even if it’s not baseball, and knowing that he’s there to help with all of it helps a lot.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry