The Crater softball team celebrates after winning Tuesday's Class 5A state semifinal game. - Jamie Lusch

Comets soar into title game

CENTRAL POINT — Emily Morrill was hit in the head by a pitch in her first at-bat, and hit in the back her second time up to the plate.

By the time her third at-bat rolled around, the junior center fielder opted for a little hitting of her own, smacking an RBI single to spark a two-run fifth inning that provided more than enough cushion for host Crater in the Class 5A softball state semifinals.

Morrill scored twice, Ashleigh Larson drove in two runs and the Comets were on point defensively to overwhelm Corvallis 4-0 and earn their first-ever trip to the state championship finals.

Crater will square off against Glencoe for the title Saturday at the Oregon State University softball complex. Glencoe edged Eagle Point 5-4 in eight innings Tuesday.

"There's not a feeling to describe this," Morrill said during the semifinal celebration. "It's just amazing. I just don't even have words for this."

While the Comets (26-3) were certainly giddy following Tuesday's triumph, they were the picture of poise during the game.

Ashleigh Cuddie was effective as usual, striking out five and allowing only three hits thanks to some superb defensive support. Shortstop Haley Hevern was especially impressive, going deep in the hole for one out and fielding a comebacker off Cuddie for another on a bang-bang play.

"That's the usual," Cuddie said of her support. "I have a good defense and I'm confident in what's behind me. If I'm not having a great game, my defense is going to get the job done."

Corvallis (20-7) managed only a handful of hard-hit balls off Cuddie, and none were grouped together as the senior Comet kept the Spartans at bay for seven innings.

"Balls weren't dropping in and their defense is obviously really solid," said Corvallis starting pitcher Karmen Holladay, whose team was making its second straight playoff appearance but only the third since 1979. "We just didn't bring the game that we normally do."

Most of that had to do with Cuddie and her poise inside the circle.

"The way she measures her performance anymore is not necessarily strikeouts but hard-hit balls," said Crater coach Chris Arnold. "She tries to limit the number of hard-hit balls, and Ashleigh does a terrific job of inducing weak groundouts or getting girls to pop up."

"She's always been a smart pitcher," added the coach, "but the jump she's made this year in sequencing pitches has taken her to the next level."

To help the team take it to the next level, senior Susan Winningham led off the first inning with a sharply hit single to the right side. After Winningham stole second, Morrill squared around for a sacrifice bunt but was promptly hit in the face mask by a Holladay offering.

Things turned exciting moments later as Hevern hit a ball to Holladay, who whirled and got the out at first with second baseman Haley Appelman covering on the play. Winningham and Morrill each advanced on the groundout, with Morrill sneaking well off second base to induce a throw by Appelman. That throw finally came, but ricocheted off the glove of center fielder Mallory Hummer, who was covering second base. Winningham easily scored and Morrill moved to third on the play.

"I love running the bases and doing stuff like that," said Morrill. "That's how we get named the aggressive base-stealing team that we are by just taking chances like that. They work, so we keep doing it."

With Morrill on third, Larson did her job by sending a ball lofting to left field for a sacrifice fly and 2-0 lead for Crater.

Morrill found herself in the thick of things again in the fifth after Kara Perdue notched her second single of the game and was sacrificed to second by Winningham. But instead of wearing another pitch, Morrill slapped a hard shot off shortstop Debra Pounder for an RBI single.

"They call me the ball magnet because it seems like I always get hit, but I'm fine with that," said Morrill. "As a No. 2 batter, that's your job, getting on base. It doesn't matter how, you just have to get there."

Larson followed with a two-out single to plate Morrill and essentially put the game out of reach.

"We've always thought that's going to help us down the stretch," Arnold said of having so many key contributors Tuesday. "We do have several gamers. Just about everybody during the course of the season has been that player who stepped up and delivered. Part of that is the team chemistry. The kids are so willing to do whatever it takes for the team."

Next, they'll do it on the state's biggest stage.

"It's just exciting and nice knowing that we're the only team at Crater that's done this," said Cuddie, who celebrated her 18th birthday Tuesday with her 21st win.

Making their 12th straight playoff appearance, the furthest the Comets had previously advanced as a program was the semifinals in 2005. Crater's exit has come on the road the last six years — three times to eventual finalists — so playing host in the semifinals on Tuesday was pivotal.

"There's no question having a home game today gave us a huge advantage," said Arnold. "The entire community here in Central Point has really embraced the girls and supported them."

Corvallis 000 000 0 — 0 3 1

Crater 200 020 x — 4 7 0

Holladay and Keim; Cuddie and Winningham. W — Cuddie (21-1). L — Holladay. 2B — Co: Lasswell.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail

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