There is no opponent the Center Grove softball program would rather eliminate from postseason competition than Franklin Central.
This works in reverse, also.
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In a battle of two of Class 4A’s best teams, the eighth-ranked Flashes blanked the defending state champion and No. 3 Trojans, 8-0, in Wednesday night’s championship game of the Franklin Central Sectional.
Coach Kathy Stricker’s squad (21-5) continues its quest for a deep postseason run Tuesday at 6 p.m. when it hosts a Class 4A regional.
The opponent will be whichever team comes out of the Shelbyville Sectional, which plays its title game Friday evening.
Center Grove, which could manage only three hits against Franklin Central starter Shelby Herron, ends its season with a 24-4 record.
“The credit’s to them. They put the ball in play hard and we kicked it around a little bit, gave them the momentum and they never gave it back,” Trojans coach Russ Milligan said, referring to the Flashes getting their first batter on base — and eventually home — due to a throw right of first base.
But it was more than allowing one run in the first frame.
Franklin Central finished the night with 13 base hits, including three singles from senior first baseman Danielle Wyse and leadoff hitter Elena Horen and catcher Devin Raters both producing a double and single.
Afterward, Milligan, whose magical postseason run of a year ago included a 3-2 win against Franklin Central — three of the previous four meetings coming into Wednesday’s game had been 3-2 Center Grove victories — spoke with his players in right field.
“I said if it doesn’t hurt then you didn’t do something this year. You didn’t give us your all. But I know they’re all hurt. I can see it in their faces,” he said. “There are certain things you can fake in this world, but you can’t fake pain.
“They left it out there every day in practice. I know they did. And sometimes this happens. I said, ‘If this is the worst thing that ever happens to you in life, your life is going to be pretty charmed.”
Franklin Central tacked on two more runs in the third inning, one in the fifth and three more in the sixth.
Center Grove’s best opportunity came in the fourth.
Senior Mandy Dallas got on first with a one-out walk, and moved to second when freshman pitcher Abby Herbst was hit by a pitch. The Trojans loaded the bases when the Flashes were guilty of a wide throw of their own, putting pinch hitter Tyler LeMasters on first.
The threat was over once Franklin Central third baseman Hannah LeMar snagged Taylor Hammill’s frozen-rope line drive and junior Hanna Burris struck out swinging.
Center Grove’s lone extra-base hit came in the sixth when sophomore third baseman Jordyn Rudd delivered a double to right-center.
Herbst, who came in with a 13-0 pitching record and 0.97 earned-run average, took the loss. She lasted five frames until Hammill came in in relief with no out and FC runners on second and third in the sixth.
Now in her 38th season at Franklin Central, Stricker, the only head coach the program has known, sensed her players wanted another chance to play Center Grove.
“We felt like we should’ve won the (sectional) game last year. We wanted to get back out there and play and make things happen for us,” Stricker said. “I can’t speak more highly of my seniors. Well, all of the kids. They’ve just been awesome all year long.
“They’ve got a good chemistry together, they work hard, they do a lot of team things together and they practice hard for me every day. I’m really proud of them.”