CENTRAL POINT — With the reigning Class 5A pitcher of the year on the mound for visiting Churchill, there was little margin for error for Crater’s baseball team Tuesday at Anhorn Field.
So little, in fact, that a couple split-second decisions were essentially all that separated the Midwestern League leaders, who entered the fray with identical 13-1 records and each in the top three of the state’s power rankings.
Churchill senior right-hander Brock Townsend fired a no-hitter through 6⅓ innings and still wound up facing the minimum 21 batters after a wild ending to the visiting Lancers’ 1-0 victory over the Comets.
Townsend struck out 11 with no walks and saw his first no-hit bid go up in flames when Crater senior Jake Cartwright singled over leaping second baseman Kyler Holland with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning.
For his part, Crater junior left-hander Larson Kindreich allowed only two hits and posted 10 strikeouts with three walks — and amazingly that wasn’t enough.
“Everybody knew it was going to a one- or two-run ballgame,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. “Both pitchers were obviously pretty dominant. They were able to manufacture a little something there in the third inning and we just couldn’t get anything going until the seventh.”
Churchill (14-1, 9-1 MWL) used two walks to put some pressure on Kindreich in the top of the first inning but the southpaw was able to buckle down and strand runners at second and third base with his third strikeout of the inning.
A leadoff ground-rule double by senior Jose Chavez to right field in the third inning set the stage for what would be the game’s lone run. After Chavez moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Michael Moore, he gambled with a big leadoff at third and was rewarded moments later when Kindreich fielded a one-hopper by Cole Wilkinson and, after looking over at Chavez, threw to first base to get an out. Chavez instantly broke home on the throw and barely beat a relay home by Crater first baseman Sebasten Boivin to catcher Sean Bartlett for a 1-0 lead against the Comets (13-2, 9-1).
“Obviously if you had it to do all over again Larson’s a heady enough baseball player he would do it differently,” said Campbell. “I think he thought he looked him back long enough and the kid obviously was being very aggressive, which in that situation you have to be. The kid made a good decision on the baserunning and it ended up coming back to bite us a little bit.”
Kindreich struck out the next batter to end the inning but definitely wished he could have had that bang-bang moment back to do again.
“I made a mistake there, I should’ve at least run him back to third there or something,” said Kindreich, who threw 92 pitches. “It hurts but you’ve got to move on and try to get better tomorrow.”
You wouldn’t normally expect one run to come back and haunt a lineup as potent as Crater’s, but Townsend simply was magnificent in working fast and using his assortment of pitches to keep the Comets on their heels. Townsend was able to spot his fastball on the outside corner at the knees and had tremendous movement to his breaking pitches all game long.
“There’s just no easy outs in their lineup and for him to just kind of carve through it the way he did on 81 pitches, that’s amazing against these guys,” said Churchill head coach Kenny Niles. “They foul off pitches and they’re really disciplined but he’s just a little bulldog and there’s a reason he was the pitcher of the year in the state last year.”
“When we did manufacture the one run we kinda thought, ‘Is that going to be enough?’” added Niles. “It held on but it wasn’t going to hold on much longer, thank God we play seven (innings) and not nine.”
Kindreich did all he could do to give his team a chance at a comeback, facing the minimum number of batters in three of the last four innings, in an impressive showing in his own right.
“It’s absolutely nothing to sneeze at when you throw a two-hitter,” said Campbell. “Larson really buckled down after that first inning and was really tough and able to limit his pitches by being very aggressive at the plate.”
The Comets created some excitement in the seventh when Cartwright singled to right field, but it just wasn’t meant to be on this day. Junior shortstop Nick Bastendorff was called out moments later on a check swing where the ball dipped into the dirt for the second out, and when Cartwright was caught in no-man’s land between first and second base, he couldn’t avoid a game-ending tag when Churchill catcher Zack Trivett rifled a throw to Wilkinson at first base.
“You have a strikeout on a check swing and I think Jake might have just gotten caught off guard a little bit on the situation,” said Campbell. “But he was being aggressive and their kid made a good throw down to first and we just didn’t get back in time.”
As disappointing as it was to come up short, Campbell said he tried to put it all in perspective for his team after the game with a doubleheader at Churchill still to come Saturday.
“They’ve been great all year about just coming back and getting to business in practice,” said the coach. “It’s one game and at this point, we’re happy that it’s April 18 and not somewhere late in May.”
Townsend and Trivett; Kindreich and Bartlett. W — Townsend (6-1). L — Kindreich (5-1). 2B — CH: Chavez.
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