CENTRAL POINT — Crater senior ace Larson Kindreich has been unhittable in recent weeks, and the Comets needed every single bit of it Friday to shake Sandy in the quarterfinal round of the Class 5A baseball state playoffs at Anhorn Field.
No stranger to pitching gems over the past two seasons for Crater, Kindreich was lights out from his first pitch to his last in keeping the Pioneers at bay long enough for the Comets to secure a 1-0, eight-inning triumph during an off-and-on drizzle.
Crater (23-6), last year’s 5A state runners-up, will next play host to Bend in Tuesday’s semifinals. Bend topped Summit, 13-9, on Friday.
Kindreich ran his streak of hitless innings to 35 in a row with a complete-game no-hitter Friday, striking out 20 batters along the way to match his outing with Henley one week ago.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound left-hander has not allowed a hit in five straight appearances — he amazingly didn’t factor into a decision against the Hornets — and has five no-hitters overall.
“The numbers are just staggering,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell of Kindreich’s success. “I don’t know what state records are and stuff like that but he’s got to be approaching something. It was just a dominant performance again. He had total command from the very first inning and was on a mission. That’s how he’s been throwing, though, it’s nothing new.”
Still it was Crater junior Blake Hollingsworth who helped decide Friday’s pitchers’ duel, with Sandy starter Nolan Turin matching Kindreich with scoreless innings despite Crater putting a runner on in every inning he took the mound.
“You’ve got to tip your hat, Sandy played well and (Turin) really kept us off balance,” said Campbell. “The first couple innings we smashed some balls really hard and defensively they made some great plays and that kind of set the tone for a while. It was a hard go there just getting guys in scoring position and being able to come through with a hit.”
After Sandy reliever Colby Carson got the Pioneers (21-8) out of another jam in the bottom of the seventh inning, he couldn’t stave off the Comets in the eighth inning. Senior Trae Frodge drew a one-out walk but was quickly replaced on the basepaths by sophomore Trever Davis, who hit into a fielder’s choice at second base. Carson had two strikes on Hollingsworth with two outs when a wild pitch proved costly as Davis never hesitated in advancing all the way to third base without a throw from catcher Colby Bonner.
“That’s just a huge play because it really then told Blake what pitch was coming,” said Crater head coach Jay Campbell, “because they’re not going to throw another breaking ball in that situation. Blake knew there was a fastball coming and he just needed to be on time, and he was on time and put a good swing on the ball.”
While it may sound that simple, it certainly wasn’t in Hollingsworth’s mind as he stepped back into the batter’s box with the winning run 90 feet away and a berth in Tuesday’s state semifinals on the line.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and saw 2-2 with two outs and I’m not going to lie, I was pretty nervous,” said Hollingsworth with a laugh. “I’d never hit a walk-off before but I knew there was a fastball coming because he couldn’t throw a curveball for a strike in my at-bat, so I just let it fly. As soon as I hit it I knew it was going to drop.”
And when it did, it put an end to a pretty sensational battle.
“It was a really good game,” said Sandy head coach Rick Martin. “Kindreich was on there and he was tough. They got two hits and we got none, that’s kind of the whole key to it.”
“His changeup was really good and he had good run on his fastball,” added Martin of Kindreich. “We haven’t seen a lefty of that quality all year. We’ve seen a lot of right-handers that threw well but we didn’t see a lefty like him so much. It was uncharacteristic of us because we hit the ball pretty well, the kid did a good job.”
For Kindreich, all that mattered was Hollingsworth’s hit landing safely in the right-center gap and seeing Davis trot home to the delight of the entire Crater dugout.
“You just never want to lose,” said Kindreich. “A never-quit attitude is what our team’s built on and we showed up today and we were able to execute.”
For his part, there isn’t much more Kindreich could have done in a masterful outing. Of his 106 pitches, 74 were for strikes. The only Sandy batters to reach base were Bonner, who was walked and also hit by a pitch, and when Kyle Hudson reached safely on a sinking third strike that got past catcher Ike Gilliland. Kindreich struck out nine of the first 10 batters he faced, and he struck out the side in four innings — the first two and last two — as no one from Sandy reached second base.
“I felt great,” said Kindreich. “Ike and I worked really good together. He was calling pitches and we just kept rolling and attacking hitters and it worked well for us.”
The fact that he finished with 20 strikeouts for the second straight outing was never a thought when Kindreich ventured to the ballpark Friday.
“Every time I come out I’m just trying to execute and get hitters out, whether it’s a strikeout or letting my defense work,” he said. “We’ve got a great defense and it’s outs that count, especially in the postseason.”
“Their pitcher did a great job, too,” added Kindreich. “With that many innings and only one or two hits, that’s a great outing. That’s just one of those games where we just came out on top, that’s baseball for you.”
While he took pride in Friday’s performance, Kindreich was maybe the only one who wasn’t making a big deal of it after the contest.
“It feels great but a state championship would feel even better,” he said. “That’s what we’re going for and our only goal, so hopefully we keep this going.”
Turin, Carson (7) and Bonner; Kindreich and Gilliland. W — Kindreich (7-2). L — Carson.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry