DAILY JOURNAL SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
Center Grove senior pitcher Abbey Pratt had everything going her way in Monday’s first round of the Class 4A softball sectional. Striking out nine without allowing a walk, Pratt helped the third-ranked Trojans defeat county rival Greenwood 4-1.
With the win, tournament-host Center Grove (23-2) advances to today’s 5 p.m. semifinal against Franklin Central, a 5-1 winner against Whiteland in Monday’s other first round game.
Franklin plays against New Palestine at 7 p.m. in today’s other semifinal.
Story continues below gallery
The championship game is at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
With the win, Center Grove also earned the Johnson County championship. The May 18 title game was rained out, so both teams agreed the winner of the sectional opener also would be declared county champion.
With superior command of the strike zone Monday, Pratt had a perfect game going through the first three innings.
“I was hitting my spots today and got some great defensive play, especially in our infield,” she said. “Everyone contributed, and the outfield was doing its job. We knew if we would get a few runs we’d be fine.
“I try to come out here focused because I’m doing this for my team because we’re in this together.”
Held scoreless in the first two innings by Greenwood junior pitcher Megan Overton, the Trojans tallied four runs in the third. Singles by juniors Maddie Keeley and Delainey Turner and a two-RBI single by senior Brandi Heath produced all the runs Center Grove would need.
Instrumental in the Trojans’ big inning was a 10-pitch walk to senior first baseman Mallory Baker, who fouled off six consecutive pitches before receiving the second base on balls given up by Overton in the third inning.
“I didn’t want to take a walk, especially with runners on, even though a walk is great, but I wanted to score them, so I kept battling to see if I could put it in play but she wasn’t really giving me anything,” Baker said. “I think we’re ready to accomplish something great this year.”
Pratt, after retiring the first two hitters in the fourth, gave up a single to Greenwood freshman right fielder Samantha DeCastro, but she was left stranded.
In the top of the seventh, DeCastro beat out a single that grazed off the glove of Pratt into center field to lead off the inning.
Following her ninth strikeout of the game, Pratt surrendered a two-strike double to senior Emily Ott that scored DeCastro all the way from first.
But Pratt settled down and got seniors Joslyn Leverett and Nataley Raker on infield flyouts to end the game.
Veteran coach Russ Milligan applauded the efforts of Pratt and the team for maintaining poise.
“They were focused and intense knowing we were facing one of the best pitchers (Overton),” Milligan said. “We had three heroes today, and of course Abbey Pratt pitched phenomenal. Those doubles by Keeley and Baker really put the nail in the coffin.
“As for Abbey, she was terrific and kept their hitters off-balance all game.”
Meanwhile, Greenwood (17-9) graduates five seniors but will return a nucleus of players who have gained the kind of tournament experience it takes to win big games.
“We went out and played some games against the better schools like the Roncallis that we knew would be sectional-like competition, and we played well,” coach Greg Norwood said. “We just had that one bad inning where we gave up a couple of hits, and it all changed.
“We’ve had to play for one or two runs. We’re not a big offensive team. We just caught by a better hitting team.”