Center Grove baseball coach Keith Hatfield has referred to the team as grinders on more than one occasion this season.
It’s meant as a compliment.
Monday’s two victories at the Class 4A Evansville Reitz Regional exhibited, again, that the team is built upon timely hitting and a deep pitching staff.
“We’re 25-3, but we’ve been grinding all year,” said Hatfield, who’s in his third season with the Trojans. “It’s never pretty, and you never know who’s going to get the big hit.
“There have been so many guys for us.”
Center Grove has produced enough timely hits to advance to Saturday’s Plainfield Semistate. The Trojans, in the semistate for the first time since 1996, play Roncalli.
Unranked in the state coaches’ poll, Center Grove advanced by gutting out a 5-4 win against ninth-ranked New Albany in Monday’s regional title game by scoring one run in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings.
As is custom, many players contributed.
Senior second baseman Brian Gudeman’s single into Bosse Field’s centerfield grass produced the winning run, completing a rally started by Will Smithey’s leadoff walk.
Sophomores Michael Wyman and Ryan Sauter came through with two hits apiece, including Wyman’s home run, with junior Nick Coy also scoring a run after being on base three different times.
Jack Kellams pitched the first 4 1/3 innings for the Trojans before senior Conner Cantrell was brought on for the final 2 2/3 innings.
It was the Trojans’ fifth one-run victory of the season. They’ve also won five games by two runs.
Center Grove defeated Bloomington South 5-1 in Monday’s semifinal. The game was a continuation of the one started Saturday that suspended by rain with the Trojans leading 1-0 and batting in the bottom of the second.
Senior left-hander Jacob Cantleberry went the distance, allowing three hits and striking out nine Panthers hitters.
Wyman delivered two hits for the Trojans. Senior center fielder Tye Thixton led off the game with a triple, Smithey produced a sacrifice fly, and senior third baseman Braden Pinegar belted a double.
Not bad for a team that through 28 games carries a batting average below .300.
“Our pitching staff and defense have been great all year,” Thixton said. “In big situations someone comes up with the big hit, and we win by a run or two.
“I’m sure we’ve aged coach Hatfield by a lot with all these close games.”
A 2003 graduate of Roncalli, Hatfield now has to beat his alma mater — and where he was head coach for four seasons (2010-13) — to send Center Grove to Victory Field for the Class 4A state championship game, to be played either June 17 or 18.
Hatfield is looking forward, not backwards.
“I still know a lot of the guys at Roncalli. It’s going to be fun,” Hatfield said. “They’re a really good team with a lot of left-handed pitchers. But the nerves won’t be because of Roncalli.
“The nerves will be because it’s a Final Four game.”
IF YOU GO
Class 4A Semistate
At Plainfield H.S.
Class 2A: Knightstown (22-8) vs. Providence (25-2), 1 p.m.
Class 4A: Roncalli (21-9) vs. Center Grove (25-3), 3:15 p.m.