The Class 4A No. 3 Center Grove High School softball team averaged 8.5 runs per game heading into the postseason.

The defending state champion Trojans have been held to five runs in two sectional games but still are headed to the championship final following a 4-0 victory against Franklin on Tuesday night in the Franklin Central Sectional semifinals.

Center Grove (24-3) will play Franklin Central (20-5) at 6 p.m. today. Flashes senior Shelby Herron threw a two-hitter in a 4-0 victory over Martinsville (11-14) in Tuesday’s other semifinal.

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The Trojans had seven hits including home runs by seniors Mandy Dallas and Maddie London.

“I think we kept them off-balance with the pitching changes,” said Franklin coach Lisa Whitlow-Hill, whose team finished 7-19. “We used three different pitchers.

“I’m proud of how our girls held them to 4-0. They’re a state championship-caliber team. We played pretty well against them.”

Center Grove coach Russ Milligan said not only changing pitchers but using girls who were throwing off-speed pitches made a difference.

“They know we faced good pitchers most of the year and faced a very good pitcher (Greenwood’s Megan Overton) Monday night,” said Milligan, whose team edged Greenwood 1-0 in eight innings. “So they figured throwing their best pitcher might not be the best strategy. It worked. We’re out on our front foot.

“We executed a couple of times and hit two over the fence, thank God, or it would have been a different story, and everybody would have been a little tighter.”

Neither team had an error.

“They put their best two fielders at third base and short(stop), and they made a lot of nice outs,” Milligan said. “The outfield made some catches I didn’t think they would make.

“My hat’s off to them, they played good defense.”

Trojans senior pitcher Taylor Hammill started and struck out eight in five innings. She walked three and gave up three hits. Milligan elected to bring freshman Abby Herbst in for the final two innings. Herbst gave up a double to Sydney Logsdon.

“I don’t think we had a favorable strike zone all night. I wouldn’t blame anything on that,” Milligan said. “Sometimes the umpire just needs to see a new pitcher. With the tight score like it was, it’s not taking any chances, and get a girl who throws a little more strikes.

“We went with the girl who throws more strikes on average. It worked. We knew once we got past their No. 5 batter, we could afford to throw a lot of strikes to their girls.”

Sophomore Jordyn Rudd had a run-scoring double in the top of the fifth to give the Trojans a 1-0 lead. In the second inning, Jessica Lupinetti tripled and scored on a double by Hammill. Center Grove made it 3-0 in the third on Dallas’ homer.

“I could tell off the bat that I hit the perfect spot. I could tell it was over,” Dallas said. “(Changing pitchers) took a little to get used to but we figured it out.”

London’s homer in the seventh boosted the Trojans’ lead to 4-0. Like Dallas, London’s homer went over the left-field fence.

“As soon I hit it, it felt really good,” London said. “I think we adjusted to slower pitching well. You just got to keep your hands back and wait on it.”

London, a catcher, said the defense has been strong in the first two games.

“We just have to get effective hitting like we always do and get timely hits,” London said. “When we see a little faster pitching, I think we’ll string hits together.”

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Mark Ambrogi is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.