KEIZER — Some days you have it and some days you don’t, and Saturday proved to be the latter for the Crater baseball team here at Volcanoes Stadium.
Facing a team the second-seeded Comets know all too well in No. 1 Churchill, who shared the Midwestern League crown with Crater, the boys from Central Point just seemed to be waging an uphill battle all morning in the Class 5A baseball state championship game.
On the other side, Churchill was dialed in early and used a three-run second inning and a four-hitter by senior Jose Chavez to propel itself to a 5-1 victory in the fourth game between the MWL foes this season.
“For me it just kind of felt like we just showed up and we weren’t on it and we weren’t playing our best baseball today,” said Crater senior first baseman Jake Ireland. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to (Churchill), they’re a great team to play against and Jose came out and threw a helluva game. They were the better team today and that’s just how it went.”
For a team that played as one with their hearts on their sleeves, the Comets (26-5) left the field with nothing but praise and respect for the Lancers (28-3) and their coaches, who earned their first state title in program history.
“Sometimes you come out to the yard and you’ve just got to tip your cap to the other team,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell. “They outplayed us today. They outhit us, they out-pitched us and defensively they were a little better than we were. That’s baseball, and when it’s in a one-game series that’s what can sometimes happen.”
Even though his team moved to 3-1 against Crater this season, Churchill head coach Kenny Niles breathed a sigh of relief for escaping the Comets, who he has gotten to know well ever since he and other Lancer faithful hosted Crater coaches and players during a 2015 summer tournament in Eugene.
“I’m just glad we’re done and we don’t play them on Monday,” Niles said before being doused by water by his players, “because then they’d beat us, and we’d beat them on Tuesday and they’d beat us on Wednesday. Nobody in this series was going to get two games up so I feel really good about things ending now.”
Niles said he was happy to be the home team for an anticipated nail-biter but wasn’t thrilled about giving Crater a chance to strike first with leadoff hitters Larson Kindreich, Jake Cartwright and Nick Bastendorff. Chavez helped settle those nerves by striking out the side, two looking.
“Jose did such a good job of carving them up and giving us a chance and getting us in the dugout feeling pretty good about things,” said Niles, echoing Campbell’s sentiment that the first inning provided a momentum builder for the Lancers.
Crater catcher Sean Bartlett showed tremendous hustle in helping keep Churchill off the board through a steady drizzle in the bottom of the first, tracking down a wild pitch and gunning down Chavez as he tried to stretch his way to third base. Senior Shay Hall made a key tag on the close play.
Churchill kept the pressure on against Kindreich, who didn’t have a feel for his curveball like the first time the team’s squared off in a 1-0 gem. A leadoff single in the second inning by Brock Townsend — the Lancers’ third hit overall — was followed by a fielder’s choice error when Jax Arnold hit a ball that shortstop Nick Bastendorff had to backhand in the hole but threw high to second baseman Hunter Grant.
After an overpowering strikeout by Kindreich, Crater pulled in the infield but No. 9 hitter Bryson McKee was able to slip a grounder under the diving Bastendorff for a two-run single that broke the ice for Churchill.
A bunt single by Chavez and an RBI single by Michael Moore off the outstretched glove of Kindreich made it 3-0 before the pitcher was able to team with Bastendorff for an inning-ending double play.
The Comets mounted a charge of their own in the top of the third when Hall was safe at first on a bunt that saw covering second baseman Kyler Holland pull his foot off the bag on a close play. After Kindreich walked, Chavez got a strikeout but Bastendorff singled to right field to load the bases. Senior catcher Sean Bartlett was able to drive a shot toward first baseman Cole Wilkinson, who bobbled the sharp offering but was able to bounce the ball to a covering Chavez inches ahead of a hard-charging Bartlett for the inning-ending out.
“You can’t fault the kid’s heart or effort, that’s for sure,” Campbell said of Bartlett, who wound up diving toward the bag in his bid for first base. “He gave it everything he had and that’s all you can ask.”
It was just that kind of day for Crater, which saw Jace Godley twice denied on outstanding catches in the outfield and Chavez strike out nine with one walk.
“That’s one of the things we really emphasis is timely hitting with runners in scoring position,” said Ireland. “The three aspects of the game we try and focus on the most is timely hitting, good pitching and good defense. We had a couple of them today but we just couldn’t put it all together to get it done.”
Four hits, including RBI singles by Arnold and McKee, in the bottom of the third lifted Churchill’s lead to 5-0. Utilizing a hit-and-run with Townsend kept Crater from getting an out early in the surge, and Cartwright came racing in from center field on Arnold’s tailing flyball but couldn’t pull the ball in despite his efforts.
The Comets cut into their deficit in the fourth when Godley singled through the left side and, after a passed ball moved him to second, came into score on a single to left field by Ireland.
Unfortunately for Crater, Chavez didn’t allow any more scoring chances to seal the deal for Churchill. The Comets were looking to repeat their finish in 2007, when Campbell guided the team to a 2-1 win over Churchill in the 5A title game.
“The kids had a great season,” said Campbell. “They’re disappointed now but they’re going to be able to look back on this game and know that they left everything they had out on the field, and that’s all you can ask for.”
Kindreich, Boivin (6) and Bartlett; Chavez and Trivett. W — Chavez. L — Kindreich (11-2).
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry