Few plays can ignite a high school softball team like a home run.
Maybe that’s why Center Grove, which already has 18, is a powder keg at the plate.
Or maybe not.
Six different players have at least one home run for the Trojans. But the number that really impress coach Russ Milligan is the .418 team batting average.
Home runs? Yes, they’re nice. But not a point of emphasis.
“The odd thing is, I try to break the girls of their home-run swing,” Milligan said. “They’re trained at an early age to go deep, and they get T-shirts for being members of the ‘bomber squad’ and things of that nature.
“The problem with the ‘bomber squad’ is, when you don’t get that home run, you turn into an ineffective out. You turn into a popout, so I really I try to break them of it.”
For better or for worse, the defending Class 4A state champion Trojans (20-3) haven’t quite broken their home-run habit. They have already hit one more than last year’s team, and the postseason doesn’t start until May 23.
Players, however, attribute the long ball to chance rather than premeditation.
“You never go up there thinking you want a home run,” said sophomore Jordyn Rudd, who leads the Trojans with seven. “You just go up there thinking I’ve got to do what’s best for the team, and if that’s a walk, if it’s getting a hit …
“Home runs are just high line drives; that’s all it really is. So you just go up there with the mindset of getting a hit for the team.”
Senior Mandy Dallas agrees. She has four home runs, including a grand slam and an inside-the-park shot, but never goes to the plate thinking home run.
She just happens to have a knack for hitting them.
“People can’t really go up and try to hit a home run, because more than likely it’s not going to happen,” Dallas said. “You’ve just have to go up with the mindset of just hitting the ball, and if you’re lucky, you’ll hit it over the fence.”
Fortunately for the third-ranked Trojans, their home-run propensity has not adversely affected their team batting average. To the contrary, when they aren’t hitting the ball out of the park, they’re putting it in play.
Last year’s team finished the season with a sterling .403 batting average. This year’s team is hitting at a .418 clip, clear evidence players aren’t swinging for the fence.
Nonetheless, balls occasionally clear the fence. And when they do, adrenaline collectively flows.
“It’s a rally and it gets us all going, and we all just keep hitting after that,” Rudd said. “It changes the tone of the game.”
And it’s a thrill for the player who hits it.
“Sometimes you can tell right off the bat when it’s going over,” Dallas said. “It’s an accomplishing feeling. You know that you don’t have to sprint-run the bases, and you know that you’re team’s there to meet you at the plate.
“It’s just exciting to do.”
Milligan enjoys the excitement, too. But he’ll take an RBI single any day. Or any contact that moves base runners, scores runs and keeps an inning alive.
“We’re happy when we hit home runs,” he said, “but I’m a lot happier when you hit those screamers that scare the small children.”
Dallas, a .514 hitter, is one of several Center Grove players that routinely hits screamers. But she also is one of several who can clear fences, even when she’s not trying.
“When I get up to bat, I’m not trying to be a hero or anything,” Dallas said. “I’m just trying to move the runner any way I can. I don’t care if I get out.
“As long as it helps my team, that’s all that matters.”
The following players have belted home runs this season for the Center Grove softball team.
*Includes one inside-the-park home run