Comets’ first baseman Kayla Hopkinson stretches to snare a throw as Maddie Maier of The Dalles Wahtonka reaches safely. - Jamie Lusch

Crater back to finals

CENTRAL POINT — When the Crater softball team beat Corvallis in last year's Class 5A state semifinals, the euphoric celebration went on and on as players ran around the field, posed for pictures and sought hugs from teammates and family members.

There was none of that Tuesday for the defending state champion Comets.

Crater advanced to its second straight title game after the Comets' semifinal contest against The Dalles Wahtonka was called because of rain with two outs in the top of the sixth inning and Crater ahead 3-2.

"It's a bummer that the weather came, but that's the game and that's the rule so there's not a lot you can do about that," said Crater senior Emily Morrill. "They played their hearts out and I just have to give it up to them because that's a tough game. Both teams played good, we just came out on top when it finished up."

The somber mood was obviously more prevalent in the Eagle Indians' dugout, where players struggled to grasp why such a decision could be made. In their minds, they still had four outs to play with in hopes of catching up to the Comets.

"I guess you can't fight nature, but I felt like this team was a team of destiny and we had a shot," said The Dalles Wahtonka coach Steve Garrett. "To have the carpet pulled out from under us is tough."

But as the grey skies moved closer, Garrett knew his team might be in a dire situation at Don Faber Memorial Field.

"I knew the minute it started raining that was the possibility because we'd already gotten five innings in," said the coach. "But they don't understand that and don't know why we couldn't move it. But the rules are the rules, and I understand that. ... If I was in their position I'd say, 'See ya, the game's over. Rules are rules.' I don't like it, but that's where we are."

Crater (21-8) will square off with Glencoe on Saturday in a rematch of last year's 5A final, won by the Comets 7-5. The Crimson Tide (25-5) edged Century 1-0 in Tuesday's other semifinal to earn a trip to the Oregon State softball complex in Corvallis.

"We're all very excited about it," Crater coach Chris Arnold said of a return to the championship game. "The focus was there at the beginning of the season and that was the goal that each girl set for us."

"I like where we're at right now," added Arnold, whose team returned only five players from last year. "The kids are confident, which is always good."

Junior pitcher Brittany Reeves was particularly effective, striking out eight and allowing only four hits through 52/3 innings. Her ability to change speeds and hit her spots on the edges of the plate kept The Dalles Wahtonka off balance all game.

"I felt really confident in all my pitches today and I was really confident in my infielders and outfielders, too," said Reeves.

The Comets managed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning after Kayla Hopkinson earned a one-out single and Ashleigh Larson followed with a slicing double down the right field line to put runners in scoring position.

Foreshadowing craziness to come throughout the semifinal, the first run scored moments later when Eagle Indians pitcher Rylee Parke fell when she was about to release a 3-2 pitch to Amanda Bates. An illegal pitch was called, allowing for each base runner to move up one base and a ball to be added to the count at the plate.

Crater tacked on another run in a more routine way in the bottom of the third, with Hopkinson reaching on an infield single, moving to second on a sacrifice by Larson and then scoring on a liner to right-center field by Reeves.

The Dalles Wahtonka (20-7) finally broke through against Reeves in the fifth inning when K-Lei Helyer hit a one-out single to give her team a spark. Pinch-runner Erica Narciso advanced to second when catcher Sarah Haga lost the ball on the transfer from glove to hand and had it roll to the fence.

After Reeves posted her fifth strikeout, Caitlin McCleary singled to put runners on the corners. A low offering by Reeves then got underneath and behind Haga to allow Narciso to score and McCleary to advance to third base with two outs. Maddie Maier followed with an RBI single to right field, barely beating a throw from Dennae Grant, to even the score at 2-all.

Undaunted, the Comets came soaring back in the bottom of the fifth as Morrill laced a leadoff single to center field. Hopkinson followed with a shot to third baseman Hannah Martinson, who relayed a throw to second baseman Chelan Guischer that was bobbled. Guischer also had the misfortune of being upended by Morrill on her slide into second as she strived to get a handle on the ball while standing in the baseline.

Morrill instantly popped up and raced to third and Hopkinson moved to second during all the commotion, but each was sent back when the umpires called for a dead ball situation in order to check on Guischer.

After another sacrifice by Larson advanced the runners into scoring position, Bates dropped down a squeeze bunt that was picked up by Parke and relayed to her catcher McCleary for a tag out on Morrill despite her diving efforts to reach the back corner of the plate.

Runners were on second and third when Reeves stepped up again and, despite falling behind in the count early, found a way to hit a high chopper between third base and shortstop. Hopkinson raced home on contact and scored her third run of the game an instant before Bates was tagged out a couple steps from third by the shortstop Maier.

"Adrenaline just kicked in," Reeves said of the fateful at-bat. "I was just like come on, give me a pitch. I was really focused on trying to keep it on the ground."

That bang-bang play proved to be the ultimate undoing for the Intermountain Conference champions, who saw their first two batters strike out in the top of the sixth and then watched helplessly as the rain came pouring down as No. 6 batter Kaity Wilson faced a 3-1 count.

The Crater coaching staff and Athletic Director Jeff Johnson worked quickly to put a tarp on the pitcher's mound and later another tarp over the batter's box and front part of the infield. When the rain subsided they also worked to try to pull the standing water off the field, but the conditions had gotten too unplayable to continue as a constant drizzle started back up again.

The mood in the Crater dugout was to hopefully get back out on the field and finish the game, but to no avail.

"I think the girls are confident enough that it didn't have to come down to a rain delay and this kind of ending," said Arnold. "Certainly they're happy we came out on top, but they did want to play."

The Dalles Wahtonka 000 02 — 2 4 0

Crater 101 01 — 3 6 2

Parke and McCleary; Reeves and Haga. W — Reeves (18-5). L — Parke. 2B — C: Larson.

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

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