DAILY JOURNAL SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
Center Grove waited until the last possible moment to turn Tuesday’s sectional semifinal softball game around.
Down 2-1 in the seventh inning, and also down to their last out and strike, the tournament-host Trojans scored two runs on a misplayed ground ball that looked for a moment like the end of the team’s season.
Instead, coach Russ Milligan’s squad improved to 24-2 on the season with a 3-2 win and, more importantly, advanced to today’s 6 p.m. final against No. 10 New Palestine.
Milligan acknowledged the Class 4A No. 3 Trojans got a bit of a break on the play but noted the wouldn’t have been possible had the Trojans not continued battling throughout what was a tough offensive game.
“The moral is that we didn’t quit. Mandy Dallas got on base for us, and then the other girls did what they needed to do,” Milligan said. “All the little pieces fit together to allow us to be in that position, and our player Delanie Turner hit a hard ground ball, and it worked out for us.”
Dallas led off what turned out to be a wild seventh inning with a single. Courtney Moriarity looked to have beaten out an infield single on a bunt but was ruled out when the home-plate umpire judged the ball touched her after she left the batter’s box, setting off a heated protest by Milligan.
Victoria Boyer then hit a hard grounder that deflected off the pitcher’s glove to the right side of the infield. Dallas collided with the Franklin Central second baseman in the base path, and Boyer and Dallas were both ruled safe after a long discussion between the umpires. They ruled that since the ball already had been played by the pitcher, Dallas wouldn’t be called out for interfering with a fielder.
Now it was Franklin Central coach Kathy Stricker’s turn to shout at the umpires for a period of time.
Trojans pinch-hitter Jessica Lupinetti, in just her ninth varsity at-bat of the season, hit a grounder to second, moving both baserunners up a base. With two outs, two strikes and two on, Delanie Turner hit a hard grounder to second, and the error allowed both Dallas and Boyer to score to make it 3-2.
Center Grove pitcher Abbey Pratt then retired the Flashes in order in the bottom of the seventh to close out the win. Pratt surrendered just four hits and one walk, striking out four for the game.
Dallas said the team did what it had to win the game but wants to improve on its performance in today’s final.
“It was very nerve-racking, but in the end we were able to pull it out. (In the seventh) I just wanted to get on base, and thankfully my teammates were able to get me home,” Dallas said. “We just need to fix our mistakes (at the plate) and get ready for tomorrow’s game.”
Milligan agreed his team was pressing a bit at the plate during much of the game. The Trojans recorded a number of fly ball outs against starting pitcher Dani Wyse, including a few that went to the fence. Wyse and relief pitcher Shelby Herron also pitched around Center Grove hitting standout Mallory Baker, walking her twice rather than attempting to challenge the .615 season hitter.
Center Grove, playing as the visiting team for the tournament game, scored the first run in the top of the third when Boyer led off with a double and then scored on a throwing error on Maddie London’s sacrifice bunt. The chance for a big inning faded when the next two hitters popped out attempting to bunt, and designated runner Hanna Burris was thrown out attempting to steal second.
The Flashes put three of their four hits together in the bottom of the inning to take the lead. Devin Raters fought off an inside pitch for a single and, following a sacrifice bunt, went to third on Herron’s infield hit. Raegan Sparks then drove a pitch into the right-field corner for a two-run triple and a 2-1 Franklin Central lead.
The game then lumbered on to its dramatic conclusion. Pratt retired 13 of the final 14 batters she faced, while Center Grove left two runners on in the sixth inning before Dallas sparked the game-winning rally.
Milligan said the team pressed at the plate for much of the game, with heavy air keeping some well-hit balls from leaving the park.
“We know we have to score more than two runs to beat a good team, and in the end we won it with some singles, some sacrifice bunts and some ground balls,” he said “We’ve got good hitters and good pitching and defense, and defense wins championships.
“We’ll be playing a good team again, and we’ll just have to perform like we know we can.”