They are light on experience, don’t score a lot of runs and seldom bunch together hits.

But no matter.

The Center Grove baseball team is well above .500, undefeated in conference play and positioned for a run at the Class 4A state championship.

That’s the Trojans’ main objective.

“What’s our goal? Win state,” senior pitcher Jacob Cantleberry said. “I think we have the team to do it.”

Tye Thixton, a senior center fielder, agreed.

“Our confidence is pretty high,” he said. “We’ve been playing some really good baseball.”

The Trojans have been doing so despite heavy graduation losses and so-so hitting that doesn’t produce tons of runs.

Yet they are 11-2 overall, 5-0 in the Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference and starting to resemble the team that won Johnson County, MIC and sectional championships last year.

Difference is, last year’s team was senior-heavy and packed an offensive punch.

This year’s team is minus six graduated seniors and hits just well enough to wear down most opponents.

For that, coach Keith Hatfield credits two areas: pitching and defense.

Center Grove executes both about as well as any Class 4A team in the state.

“We’re 11-2 because of pitching and defense,” Hatfield said. “We still haven’t scored double-digit runs (in a game) yet. We’ve got a couple of guys hitting over .400 and we’ve got a couple of guys hitting over .300, but we’ve left a lot of runners on base.

“We just haven’t had the big hit to break a game wide open. We’ve won a lot of games 3-1, 4-1, 5-1.”

When your pitching staff has an ERA of 1.33, plating a handful of runs a game is usually going to be enough. At least against most opponents.

But the Trojans know in the MIC, and in all stages of the state tournament, most opponents are something better than average.

That’s why shoring up their hitting, especially with runners on base, is a priority as they pursue goals of not only defending last year’s championships but for making a deep postseason run.

“We’ve been hitting a lot more solid lately and been a lot tougher outs,” Thixton said. “We’re putting up good numbers right now, but if we can start putting up double-digit (runs), we’re going to be really hard to beat.”

Thanks to pitching and defense, the Trojans already are a tall order.

One of the state’s top pitchers, Cantleberry is one of three returning pitchers in a deep rotation that includes senior Conner Cantrell and junior Jack Kellams. They are complemented by a defense that has limited five of its past seven opponents to one run.

By virtue of the pitching/defense combination, the Trojans — who returned only three starters in the field — have a somewhat better record at the season’s midpoint than coaches might have expected.

“It’s better than what I expected,” Hatfield said. “I knew we had good pitching coming back. I knew that was going to be what carried us, and it has, definitely, no question.”

Now, it’s a matter of the bats catching up — a process players insist already has begun.

“We’re heading in the right direction. Our bats are coming around,” Cantleberry said. “Our pitching and defense are great. Our bats are kind of iffy, but we’re coming around.

“As guys get more at-bats, it’ll come around. It’s already better than it was at the beginning of the season.”

If the offense does come around, Hatfield is confident the Trojans can, at the very least, successfully defend each of last year’s championships — county, conference and sectional.

“We talk about trophies a lot, about winning trophies,” Hatfield said. “There’s an opportunity to win three different trophies with the same season.

“I do like our chances because of our pitching, but what worries me is the lack of run production.”

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Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2715.