At this point of the season, how you win doesn’t matter.
Winning is all that matters.
For that reason, 24th-year Center Grove coach Russ Milligan isn’t concerned about a pair of narrow escapes in the sectional, when the Trojans had to rally in extra innings against Franklin Central and Class 4A No. 10 New Palestine.
Center Grove won both and, as a result, kept its bid for a state championship alive.
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That’s all that matters.
A victory in tonight’s regional showdown at defending Class 4A state champion Bloomington South (7-12) would launch the No. 3 Trojans (25-2) to Saturday’s Bedford North Lawrence Semistate.
“We’re playing for each other, and that’s the big thing with this team. We knew what we had to do to get back so we couldn’t let ourselves shut down mentally,” senior third baseman Victoria Boyer said. “I think the strongest aspect is just how we click together.
“We’ve all known each other forever, and everyone has that role that they play.”
The principals in a powerful lineup trying to break a six-year regional championship drought begin with lead-off hitter Delainey Turner, who plays shortstop and bats .359 while leading the team in steals with nine.
Sophomore leftfielder Maddie Keeley (.342) hits second, followed senior first baseman Mallory Baker (.584, 16 doubles, 38 RBIs) and freshman right fielder Jordyn Rudd (.506, nine doubles, 29 RBIs) in the cleanup position.
Senior designated hitter Brandi Heath (.409, seven doubles) bats fifth. She’s followed by junior second baseman Mandy Dallas (.346, nine doubles), senior center fielder Courtney Moriarty (.372), Boyer (.300) and junior catcher Maddie London (.397).
Key players off the bench have been junior Taylor Hammill (.407) and sophomore pinch runner Hannah Burris.
Center Grove bats .405 as team.
“When you’re right at .400 as a team, that means you don’t have any weak sisters in the lineup. In 2009 that was the same case. In 2003 that was the same case,” Milligan said.
“But we also have very good pitching and incredible defense. It’s the trifecta — pitching, defense and offense. This doesn’t stand out from some of the great (teams) I’ve had, but it stands with some of the great ones I’ve had in the fact we’re really well-rounded.”
Senior Abbey Pratt is Center Grove’s pitching ace having so far with a 19-2 record and 1.44 earned run average. Pratt in 131 2/3 innings has struck out 143 hitters and walked 36.
Hammill and Moriarty have pitched 21 1/3 and 17 innings, respectively.
Suspenseful as the close calls have been, Milligan said what transpired during the three sectional games only makes this team stronger.
“Our area in softball is just phenomenal. We had to beat two ranked teams in our sectional and the best pitcher in the sectional,” said Milligan, who guided the Trojans to state championships in 1995, 1998, 2003 and 2009.
“I knew it was going to be a tough road, but at the same time it wouldn’t have done us any good to draw a weaker opponent and not have to play intense,” Milligan said. “If we had, we would probably be home right now.”
IF YOU GO
Who: Center Grove (25-2) vs. Bloomington South (7-12)
What: Class 4A softball regional
Where: Bloomington South High School
When: 7 tonight
At stake: A berth in Saturday’s semistate at Bedford North Lawrence