Senior pitcher Larson Kindreich saw his streak of hitless innings halted at 37 in the first inning of the Class 5A baseball state championship.
By the end of the day he couldn’t have cared less.
Kindreich worked out of jams in all but two innings before closing the door with another scoreless frame in Crescent Valley’s final at-bat to help power the Comets to a 2-0 triumph and their first state title since 2007 and third overall after finishing as runner-up last year.
“This is just surreal, I don’t even know if I can really put it into words,” Kindreich said with a broad smile and a first-place medal around his neck. “It just feels amazing, especially coming back from last year and all the hard work everybody put in, from the coaches to everybody on the team. Everybody had a job and everybody did their job. This team deserved it more than any other team I’ve ever been a part of. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
Kindreich finished with 14 strikeouts — six straight after a leadoff triple by Kyle Killen in the fourth — and allowed six hits with three walks (two intentional). The 6-foot-3, 200-pound left-hander didn’t allow a run in his final 43? innings of the season for Crater (25-6).
“Larson gets better when the pressure gets on and in tough situations,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. “Today he was in some really difficult ones and just to be able to pitch out of that was incredible. When you have a strikeout pitcher like him, you always have a chance for that to happen but you never know if it’s really going to happen.”
All of Kindreich’s wizardry was needed against top-seeded Crescent Valley (28-3), which got a standout pitching performance of its own from Ethan Krupp. The junior right-hander had a no-hitter going with six strikeouts before Kindreich broke up the bid with a one-out single in the top of the sixth inning.
“He doesn’t have maybe as good of stuff as Larson but he kind of matched him pitch for pitch so I was proud of him,” said Raiders coach Ryan Starwalt of Krupp. “That could’ve gone a couple different ways and he gave us a chance. We felt like we were right there. It was just that one big hit by them, and we never got that hit.”
After pinch-runner Payton Anhorn took over for Kindreich on first base, senior Nick Bastendorff reached safely when his grounder was misplayed by third baseman Hunter Johnson. After a meeting on the mound, Krupp’s next pitch was sent soaring to right field by Crater’s Trae Frodge in what may have been the longest moment of the senior’s life.
“I was just looking for that first-pitch fastball,” said Frodge. “Luckily I got it and put a good swing on it. After that I was just, ‘Get over his head, get over his head, come on get over his head!’ It was awesome.”
When Frodge’s ball carried over the head of right fielder Ben Leid, Anhorn easily scored from second base and Bastendorff did as well from first base to build a 2-0 lead.
“Nick did a great job of getting a jump and got a great read,” said Campbell, “and I wasn’t going to stop him. We wanted to put the pressure on.”
After that, all that was left was whether Kindreich could keep the Raiders at bay and oh boy did they put up a fight. Crescent Valley loaded the bases in the bottom of the sixth on a walk, hit and one error before Kindreich buckled down with a strikeout and a pop-up that he pulled in to end the threat.
“Sometimes that’s what you need to fire you up a little bit,” Kindreich said of facing adversity Saturday. “That’s how you get your good stuff when you have to bear down and compete. (Catcher Ike Gilliland) did a great job keeping me focused and (Campbell) did a great job with the pitches, I couldn’t ask for any better.”
Crescent Valley was set up with its top three hitters in the Raiders’ final chance in the bottom of the seventh, but there was no question who was finishing the game for Crater.
“Going into the last inning, kind of like the situation we were in against Bend in the semifinals, I told Larson you have 13 pitches left and he looks at me and goes, ‘Coach, that’s plenty,’” said Campbell. “And I said, ‘OK, then let’s go get ‘em.’”
Kindreich induced a groundout by Taylor Holder to second baseman Trever Davis, struck out Utah-bound senior Briley Knight and then watched in awe as Frodge ran up on a bunt attempt down the third-base line and rifled a ball to first baseman Garrett Dance, who couldn’t have extended another inch on his game-ending catch.
“We always kid Trae because he’s always working on that play,” said Campbell. “I almost think he lets them bunt it there so that he’s got to run in and make a play, I really do. He just loves a challenge and thank goodness he was able to make a great play and Garrett had a great stretch.”
Frodge would neither confirm nor deny Campbell’s theory.
“Luckily I was able to get there,” he slyly said. “I thought it was going to go foul — they were telling me to let it go foul — but I was like, nah, I want to make the play.”
That set off a celebration over a year in the making as Gilliland and Kindreich collided alongside the mound and a dogpile quickly engulfed the duo after the hard-fought victory.
“That’s what we kind of pride ourselves on,” said Campbell of his team’s gritty nature. “It doesn’t have to be pretty, you’ve just got to find a way to keep grinding and get yourself in a position to win, and we were able to do that. We didn’t have very many opportunities at all and they were banging on the door all day long. It just kind of shows the guts and resiliency of our team, it really does.”
Kindreich and Gilliland; Krupp, Holder (7) and Lach. W — Kindreich (9-2). L — Krupp (5-1). 2B — C: Frodge. 3B — CV: Killen.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry