The Crater-Ashland baseball rivalry is alive and well.

Inches from capturing the first of a crucial three-game season series, the Ashland Grizzlies suffered a painful loss as the visiting Comets took advantage of a controversial call at the plate to steal the Midwestern League showdown 5-3 Tuesday at North Mountain Park.

Crater scored three runs on two hits and an error in the top of the seventh to take its first lead of the game, and Larson Kindreich finished off a complete-game effort in the bottom of the inning to help the Comets remain perfect at 4-0 in the MWL.

One play may haunt the Grizzlies (5-2, 2-2 MWL) for some time, or at least for the next few days until the two teams meet up again for a doubleheader Saturday in Central Point.

Ashland led 3-2 in the top of the seventh with one out and runners at second and third when reliever Nick Sanderson struck out Kindreich with a curve ball in the dirt. The ball got away from Ashland catcher Nate McLennan, who recovered in time to throw out Kindreich at first. Crater’s Tyler Williams took off from third as soon as McLennan released the ball and was called safe after making a head-first slide into home against a tag attempt by Sanderson, who raced in to cover.

Ashland coach Nick Hall rushed onto the field to protest the call and was immediately ejected from the game. Moments later, Jake Cartwright laced a single to right to put Crater up 4-3, and after Cartwright stole second Nicholas Bastendorf slapped another single to right to give the Comets an insurance run.

“Nate blocked that third strike, made a great throw to first and then Peyton (Fuller) made a great throw home,” Hall said. “The ball beat him and [Sanderson], from my vantage point, tagged (Williams) on the arm as he was in the air before he got to the plate. It didn’t seem close to me so I felt obligated to go argue that. (The umpire) said basically he got the bag before the tag. That’s not what I saw.”

Crater coach Jay Campbell said the decision to go for the game-tying score was made by Williams.

“That’s his read, really,” he said. “We had already gained ground on home plate. He had a good read and the ball bounced away and that’s his read and if he …gets a good jump he’s gotta go. I can’t do it for him.

“It was a close play at the plate. I don’t know if he was safe or out. I don’t know earlier in the game if it was safe or out — I thought we were safe when we stole home earlier in the game. It’s baseball. You never know what’s going to happen and things always work their way out.”

In the bottom of the seventh Ashland’s Jesse Carroll reached on an error with two outs to bring up Sanderson, a lefty power hitter. But in a matchup of strength versus strength, and lefty versus lefty, Kindreich induced a weak grounder to second to end the game.

Hall, who may not be allowed to coach the first game Saturday as per OSAA ejection rules, said the Grizzlies must put the frustrating defeat behind them before the weekend rematch.

“We can’t let Crater use today’s game to control the entire series,” he said. “We need to know that we gave it our best shot today, we played well, we could have done a few things better, but really today was a coin toss and we need to get back and Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, really focus on going into the weekend strong.”

Fuller pitched the first six innings for Ashland and held the Comets to two runs. Hall considered letting Fuller close out the game in the seventh, but that was before a shaky sixth in which Crater loaded the bases with nobody out. Fuller escaped relatively unscathed — one Comet scored when Sean Bartlett grounded into a 4-6-3 double play. The next batter, Jace Godley, flew out.

Crater;010;001;3;—;5;5;1

Ashland;200;100;0;—;3;5;2

Kindreich and Bartlett; Fuller, Sanderson (7) and N. McLennan. W — Kindreich (4-0). L — Sanderson.

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.