Crater catcher Zach Boskovich fails to tag out West Albany runner Jeremy Burright at home plate during Tuesday’s state-playoff game. - Jim Craven

West Albany slides by Crater

CENTRAL POINT — Crater entered this season as the defending Class 5A baseball champions in name only after almost completely turning over its roster, but none of that mattered to West Albany on Tuesday.

Still smarting from a 6-1 loss to Crater in the quarterfinals of last year's state playoffs, the Bulldogs were more than a little eager to avenge that loss at Anhorn Field and extend this year's campaign.

Crater, runner-up in the Southern Sky Conference this season, appeared destined to put up a formidable roadblock after taking a 2-0 lead into the second inning.

But that early surge would be just about all the Comets could muster during Tuesday's second-round state-playoff contest. West Albany went on to peck away at Crater, scoring eight straight runs to take an insurmountable lead en route to a 9-3 triumph at Anhorn Field.

"Today they were a better team than we were," said Crater coach Jay Campbell. "That's the bottom line. They hit the ball better and they pitched the ball better so you have to tip your hat to them."

West Albany senior Nick Irving went 4-for-4 with three runs and two RBIs to pace his team, while senior starter Will Murphy and junior reliever Nathan Boone combined on a three-hitter.

"We came into the game completely with thoughts of last year, knowing that this is a solid program down here and that, even clearing house last year, with them taking second ... that's an absolutely great feat," said West Albany coach Don Lien. "There's some great talent there with kids that weren't even on the field last year."

The Bulldogs (18-10), the No. 2 seed from the Mid-Willamette Conference, advances to face Bend in Friday's quarterfinals.

Some nerves were apparent early Tuesday for Crater (19-9), with junior starter Craig Kathol hitting Will Bussard on the first pitch of the game. Kathol quickly settled down, however, and got out of the potential jam unscathed.

The bottom of the first inning couldn't have started much better for the Comets, with Johnny Wood slapping a leadoff single past a diving Christian Lichtenthaler at shortstop and Kathol following with a walk. Senior Zach Boskovich — the only returning starter from last year's title team — was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.

After Bryce Peila popped out to second baseman Bussard, Ryan Baxter turned on the first pitch he saw from Murphy and fisted a two-run single just inside the left-field line to put Crater on the board.

Murphy was able to minimize the damage, however, as he induced Jordan Higbee into an inning-ending double play.

"That first inning we had an opportunity to kinda break it open and distance ourselves a little bit and we didn't quite get it done," Campbell said. "We got two runs out of it but that could've been a real big inning for us."

West Albany pecked away for a run off Kathol in the second, with Lichtenthaler plating Irving despite being sawed off by an inside fastball with two outs. The ball slowly rolled to no man's land between third base and the pitcher's mound and left no play for a charging Higbee.

Murphy then sat down the Comets in order in the bottom of the second, and his teammates finally perked up in the third.

West Albany used a pair of one-out singles by Jesse Lear-Konold and Jeremy Burright to put the pressure on. Tyler George then fisted a slow roller to shortstop that Peila snared but his throw was in the dirt and glanced off first baseman Baxter to allow a run to score and George to reach safely.

Irving followed by punching an RBI single to right field for a 3-2 lead, and Murphy caught the Comets napping with a perfectly executed bunt to load the bases.

Campbell turned to Bruce Sanford to quiet the storm, but the reliever walked in a run before getting the final two outs of the frame.

While the sudden burst of offense was welcome, Lien said the key to the early surge involved Murphy's ability to stymie Crater in the prior inning.

"Him coming back out that next inning and shutting things down allowed us to come back in and get that run going," Lien said. "We were still thinking where are we going with this game, and he set the tempo for us on the mound and offensively we picked it up for him."

Murphy continued to keep Crater off balance over the next two innings, while the Bulldogs countered with four more runs in the fourth to take an 8-2 lead.

"They had a couple hits and it seemed like everything started going their way and we just couldn't come back," said Baxter, who finished 1-for-2 with a walk.

"We usually score a lot in the first inning and then we always have trouble after that," added the senior. "But usually toward the end we can put the ball in play, but it just didn't happen today."

Christian Massey's leadoff double to center field in the fifth snapped a string of 10 straight hitless at-bats by Crater, and set in motion another potential big inning. Sanford drew a one-out walk to signal the end of the day for Murphy, and Boone walked Boskovich to load the bases again.

But, as in the first inning, the Comets could do little with the opportunity. Peila hit into a fielder's choice to plate Massey, but Baxter hit a high pop-up to shortstop to halt the rally.

Irving drove a hanging curveball over the left field fence in the top of the sixth to answer for the Bulldogs and help close out an otherwise standout season for Crater.

"We obviously didn't want it to end like this, but we had a pretty good year considering we had 13 new faces," said Campbell, who will return his entire pitching staff but only three starting position players next year. "We came a long way from where we started and, like I told the kids, they have nothing to hang their heads about. Baseball's a game of inches and sometimes it doesn't go your way."

Lear-Konold, Burright, Murphy and Lichtenthaler each had two hits for West Albany, with six of its nine starters driving home at least one run.

West Albany 013 401 0 — 9 14 1

Crater 200 010 0 — 3 3 2

Murphy, Boone (5) and Miller; Kathol, Sanford (3) and Boskovich. W — Murphy (6-2). L — Kathol (6-3). 2B — WA: Bussard, Irving; C: Massey. HR — WA: Irving.

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

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