Rarely do freshmen make impacts on state-ranked softball teams.

Rarer still do they do it on defending state championship teams.

Abby Herbst is the rare exception.

Already one of the area’s — if not the state’s — top high school players, she is impacting fifth-ranked Center Grove in three vital areas: pitching, hitting and fielding.

Herbst is among the Trojans’ leaders in all three, a distinction that generally belongs to upperclassmen.

“It must mean that you’re a pretty talented player,” Center Grove coach Russ Milligan said. “She is very versatile. The impact is universal. It’s all over the place.

“She’s a very talented kid that could play several roles for us.”

Not only could, but does.

Herbst is the Trojans’ No. 1 pitcher and third-leading hitter. She plays first base when not on the mound.

Unbeaten as a pitcher, she is 9-0 with a team-best ERA of 1.07 in a team-high 59 innings.

At the plate, she’s hitting .500 with 23 RBIs, two home runs and a team-high 10 doubles.

In the field, she has a .989 fielding percentage and committed only one error.

Not bad for a freshman who didn’t know how she’d be received by the defending Class 4A state champions, who returned six starters and nine total letterwinners.

“It was scary, very intimidating, but the seniors have been great,” Herbst said. “The upperclassmen have been fantastic about it. They’ve very helpful and supportive.

“I struggled in the beginning just because of nerves, but I feel a lot better now. It’s just really been great.”

Herbst’s poise is no accident.

A veteran travel team player, she has played softball “ever since I can remember.” She has played the past two seasons for the Beverly Bandits near Chicago, one of the nation’s elite age group teams.

Herbst has spent much of the past two summers commuting to Chicago for practices and tournaments traveled with the Bandits to California for the travel team nationals each of the past two seasons.

But despite her impressive résumé, which Milligan was well aware of, he wasn’t sure what to expect until he plugged her into the varsity lineup.

“You can anticipate all you want,” Milligan said. “Had I heard about about her? Absolutely, I had heard about her. Did I know she was going to be this good for us? No.

“I just waited to see what would happen with that, and she’s just stepped up big.”

To the point where the Trojans (16-3) are abundantly confident of repeating as state champions.

One of the state’s top defensive teams with a .966 team fielding percentage, the Trojans hit a collective .406 and have belted 17 home runs.

Herbst’s pitching, combined with that of senior Taylor Hammill (6-3, 2.30 ERA), makes Center Grove a dynamic force in all phases.

“We’re looking really, really good right now,” Herbst said. “We were struggling there for a little while, but we’ve really picked up.”

“We’ve finally started to mold together, so that’s been really great.”

Having moved on from an April slump, Center Grove takes a nine-game winning streak into the Johnson County Tournament. The Trojans are the No. 1 seed and play in Saturday’s semifinals against the winner of Friday’s first-round game between Indian Creek and Whiteland.

The championship game is Saturday at Center Grove.

“It helps that (Herbst) is a great kid and a nice girl, but she easily melded with the team,” Milligan said. “Sometimes it’s a tough thing to walk in and be accepted. You have to do a lot of little things. She still carries the bags and does the freshman grunt work that’s kind of expected and still can be a leader for us out there on the field.

“I wasn’t expecting her to be like this, but the credit goes to her for being able to fit in physically and mentally. She appreciates the program and the steps you have to take to become a part of our program.”

Herbst’s goal is to help the program accomplish its sole objective: repeat as state champion.

“I totally believe that we can win state again,” she said. “I know the team was great last year, but I think we have a lot of the same qualities as last year’s team, and I really think that we can go all the way again.”

The Herbst File

Name: Abby Herbst

High school: Center Grove

Sport: Softball

Year: Freshman

Position: Pitcher/first base

Travel team: Beverly Bandits in Chicago, Illinois

Favorite TV show: “One Tree Hill”

Favorite movie: “The Hunger Games” series

Family: Parents are Bob and Susan Herbst; has two older sisters, Jill and Rachel Herbst

If you go

What: Johnson County Softball Touranament

Where: Center Grove High School

Friday’s first-round games: 5:30 p.m., Franklin vs. Edinburgh, upper field; Indian Creek vs. Whiteland, lower field

Saturday’s semifinals: 10 a.m., Greenwood vs Franklin/Edinburgh winner, lower field; Center Grove vs. Whiteland/Indian Creek winner, upper field

Saturday’s championship game: 12:30 p.m., upper field

Admission: $5; students grades 6 and younger, free

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