Crater falls short in 5A quarterfinals
CENTRAL POINT — It’s never easy when you’re facing a team for the fourth time in a season, and the degree of difficulty only escalates when you spot that team a five-run lead midway through the sixth inning.
That’s exactly the situation that faced Crater’s third-seeded baseball team Friday in the Class 5A state quarterfinals against Midwestern League rival Churchill at Anhorn Field.
Instead of playing the sympathy card, the Comets tightened their belts and put forth a huge comeback that got the game all square before the visiting Lancers answered to eke out a 7-5 victory.
“We knew it was going to be a tight game and to go down five runs and come back and score five in an inning,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. “That just shows the character and the belief that these guys have in each other and in the system. They knew that it was going to happen and they were going to battle to the very end, and that’s just how this group has been all year long.”
Churchill (21-8), a No. 6 seed that placed fourth in the MWL, advances to Tuesday’s semifinals against second-seeded Hood River Valley (22-6), which edged another MWL team — Ashland — 2-0 on Friday.
Summit (24-3) will face Crescent Valley (24-5), which beat MWL runner-up Marist, in the other 5A semifinal.
“What a huge range of emotions,” said Churchill head coach Kenny Niles of Friday’s frantic finish. “Jay’s a very good friend of mine and he does a great job. I think we predicted that we could be up 5-0 and still be in a dogfight at the very end. His kids play with so much heart. Every game we’ve had against those guys, there’s not enough room to be comfortable. It’s a credit to him and a credit to his program, 5-0 should feel pretty good when you’ve got a guy on the mound that’s throwing a one-hitter, but today it almost wasn’t enough.”
Churchill, which had lost two of three against Crater in MWL play, scored on a wild pitch by Jacob Swartwout in the third inning and then tacked on four runs in the top of the sixth courtesy of three hit batters by reliever Jake Ireland, an error and a two-run single by Brock Townsend.
Instead of hanging their heads, the Comets (20-9) got a one-out rally going in the bottom of the sixth when Caine Smith drew a walk and moved to second after fellow senior Neil Bastendorff was hit by a pitch to end the day for Churchill starter Jose Chavez.
The first pitch from reliever Brandon DeShaw hit junior Sean Bartlett to load the bases, then junior Jace Godley supplied a much-needed two-run single to give rise to a potential comeback.
“There is no feeling like that when you finally break the seal and have a good hit,” said Godley, who finished 2-for-4 with one run and two RBIs. “It’s the best feeling in the world watching your teammates, once you get to the bag, look at you and know that they’re proud of you for doing your best and not giving up even though you have two strikes on you and you’re just fighting.”
Ireland kept the momentum going with a two-run single of his own to force another pitching change by the Lancers. Ireland had missed the final month of the season with a broken hand but returned for the playoffs.
After a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt by junior Shay Hall, senior Hayden Deuel came through with the game-tying hit on a chopper up the middle against Cole Wilkinson. Jake Cartwright then singled off Wilkinson and Nick Bastendorff reached safely to load the bases when there was initial confusion on a play at second base by Churchill.
With the go-ahead run 90 feet away, Smith sent a slow grounder toward third baseman Lantz Cline, who advanced on the ball and found himself in a collision with Cartwright as he streaked toward third base. Plate umpire Jerry Eklund immediately ruled runner’s interference on the play for the final out of the inning, and was backed up after Campbell asked for the umpires to deliberate over the ruling.
“You hate seeing a call like that determine it but it’s not here nor there, the umpires made the call and that’s the call that we go with,” said Campbell. “Obviously it was a huge call but it doesn’t take away from the fact that we had other opportunities and other things that we could’ve done. It just didn’t happen for us.”
Cartwright put his head down and raced from second base once the ball was hit with two outs.
“There’s nothing you can really do there,” said Campbell. “We’re playing hard and he’s trying to get to the base, he doesn’t know that the guy’s coming forward with the ball. It’s not like he went out of the way to hit the guy and it’s not like he went around the guy. He was just trying to get to the base and they collided. We’re taught to play hard and run hard and that’s what he did. You can’t fault the kid for that effort.”
Given a reprieve, Churchill used a leadoff walk to Chavez and a two-out double by Wilkinson to break the 5-all tie in the top of the seventh. Townsend followed with an RBI single for a two-run cushion.
In their final at-bat, the Comets got a two-out double to the right-center field fence by Godley but Townsend, who pitched a complete-game victory Wednesday, got his second strikeout of the seventh to seal the victory.
“I’m very proud of my team in how we rallied up,” said Godley. “We’re very close as a team and we all love each other and even though we were down by five runs, we came back to make it a close game ... we just got the short end of the straw today.”
Chavez, DeShaw (6), Wilkinson (6), Townsend (7) and Trivett; Swartwout, Ireland (5) and Bartlett. W — Wilkinson. L — Ireland. S — Townsend. 2B — CH: Wilkinson; C: Godley.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry