Crater cranks up bats in semifinal rout

PENDLETON — Playing in the state championship baseball game is something members of the Crater Comets' senior class have been dreaming about since they were 13 years old.

The dream became a reality Tuesday when they beat Intermountain Conference runner-up Pendleton, 8-2, on the strength of 16 hits.

"Since we were in Little League, we always said, 'Our senior class of '07 will go to the state championship,'" senior shortstop Cory Staniforth said. "It's actually unfolding in front of our eyes, so it's way awesome."

"I guess it hasn't sunk in yet really," said ace pitcher Chris Thomas. "We've always been saying that's what we wanted to do."

The Comets (23-5) will face Midwestern League runner-up Churchill in the Class 5A finale Saturday at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer. The time has yet to be determined.

Churchill defeated Ashland, 10-6, Tuesday.

Thomas raised his season record to 12-0 with a complete game, notching four strikeouts and one walk and not allowing a hit until the bottom of the fourth inning as Pendleton batters continually stepped back to avoid a deceiving curveball.

"All of my pitches worked pretty well," Thomas said. "I just had trouble controlling them a few times, but that's part of having good movement."

The Comets started their semifinal game hot as lead-off batter Tyler Davis ripped the first offering from Buckaroos pitcher Taylor West down the left-field line for a stand-up double.

After a pair of flyouts, the Comets experienced for the first time that the Bucks' outfield was not to be tested.

Cleanup batter Staniforth smacked a grounder through the gap on the left side of the infield ahead of a sprinting Davis.

As Davis rounded third, Bucks left fielder Travis Steidl unleashed a throw that made catcher Tucker Whitten give a little hop but was on target enough for Whitten to get the tag down on a sliding Davis in time for the third out.

A similar situation arose the next inning as the Comets' first two batters reached on infield singles, and left fielder Matt Hunt snuck a ground ball through the right side for a single.

First baseman Zach Boskovich tried to score from second base and was thrown out with a perfect strike from Bucks right fielder Jake VanCleave for the second out.

Then Whitten noticed Cooper Schmeltzer about 15 feet from third base and rifled a throw down to the Bucks' Kenny Melton, who put Schmeltzer in a run down that ended with the third out.

"We knew coming in that we had to put some runs up early to kind of take the crowd out of the game," Crater coach Jay Campbell said. "I'm an aggressive coach, and if we had the same thing, I was going to send them again.

"I thought we came in a little wide (around third), and that takes off some time of us getting from third to home."

The Comets finally found the plate in the third, though, as the top of the lineup again got runners in scoring position and Staniforth bunted home the first run with two outs.

"Coach didn't give me the signal (to bunt)," Staniforth said through a wide grin. "Nobody expects me to bunt, but I'm a good bunter. The first baseman, I just read it, he played back on the grass really deep ... I knew I could get it down."

He said he remembered the same scenario from his freshman season that resulted in a game-winning RBI and figured he could do it again.

Boskovich followed that with a two-run double to the wall in right field.

Right fielder Jesse Warren started the scoring off in the fourth with a home run to right, and second baseman Josh Surgeon made it 5-0 with an RBI double to left.

Pendleton broke up Thomas' no-hitter and his shutout in the bottom of the frame with a pair of singles, but the Comets put three more on the board in the fifth on a double from Hunt that careened off the wall in center field.

"They put in a lefty and they were throwing outside, and that's what we do best," Hunt said.

A Pendleton run in the bottom of the fifth ended the scoring.

Thomas will once again take the mound Saturday as the Comets appear in their first title game since their championship year of 2000.

"He's the horse we're riding the whole way," Campbell said.

Crater 003 230 0 — 8 16 2

Pendleton 000 110 0 — 2 7 1

Thomas and Reina; West, Livesay (5), Smith (5) and Whitten. W — Thomas (12-0). L — West. 2B — C: Davis, Surgeon 2, Boskovich, Hunt; P: Smith 2. HR — C: Warren.

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