Fortunately for the Center Grove baseball team, opponents never know who will make the decisive play.
Unfortunately for the Trojans’ head coach, he never knows who will, either.
“That’s fine, but that also gives me me gray hairs,” Keith Hatfield said. “I have no idea what’s going to happen from game to game.”
So far, the guessing game has served the Trojans well.
One of only four teams still alive in the Class 4A postseason, they take a six-game winning streak and a 25-3 record into Saturday’s Plainfield Semistate.
Center Grove plays southside rival Roncalli (21-9) at 3:15 p.m. The winner advances to the following week’s state championship game at Victory Field.
The Trojans expect it to be them.
“We’re definitely going into it with the mindset of knowing we’re winning,” senior pitcher Conner Cantrell said. “We are very confident.”
It’s easy to understand why.
In the semistate for the first time since 1996, the unranked Trojans have made a habit of winning. They don’t dazzle offensively, but they excel at pitching and defense and find ways to deliver at the plate — a formula that has carried them to county, conference, sectional and regional championships.
“We’ve really come up with big hits when we’ve needed them,” Cantrell said. “Our batting average obviously isn’t as good as we would like it to be, but I feel like in the moments that we really need something to happen, we make it happen.”
Case in point: the championship final of the Evansville Reitz Regional.
Tied 4-4 in the final inning against No. 9 New Albany, the Trojans won on an RBI single by senior Brian Gudeman — an unlikely deliverer on that day, in light of the fact he had struck out in his three previous at-bats.
The dramatic finish illustrated the fact that when Center Grove is at the plate, it’s impossible to know who will execute in the clutch.
But someone usually does.
“I never know who’s going to come up with the big hit of defensive play. It’s been somebody different every game,” Hatfield said. “There’s nobody who we really depend on every single game.
“We don’t have to depend on one guy in order to win games.”
What the Trojans depend on instead is their pitching and defense — and faith that offense will take care of itself.
As a team, Center Grove hits below .300. But the pitching staff has sparkling numbers, and the defense has been nearly flawless.
Senior left-hander Jacob Cantleberry is the No. 1 pitcher with a 7-0 record and 0.80 ERA. Junior right-hander Jack Kellams is 7-0 with a 1.95 ERA. And Cantrell, a right-hander, is 7-1 with a 0.85 ERA.
Cantrell picked up wins in relief appearances in the sectional and regional finals.
Sophomore Jacob Gilcrest and junior Max Heath also have pitched quality innings throughout the season.
“We have a great pitching staff, and the defense has been really strong, so I think we’re feeling pretty confident,” senior catcher Will Smithey said. “We’re starting to hit the ball a little better.
“Everything’s coming together at the right time.”
Just in time for Roncalli, a red-hot opponent that has scored 51 runs in the past five games.
Center Grove beat the Rebels 4-2 in early April but is hardly taking them for granted.
Powered by one of the state’s top pitchers in senior Michael McAvane, a Purdue recruit and Major League Baseball prospect, the Rebels have an explosive offense complemented by a sound defense.
Hatfield, a former Roncalli head coach in his third year with the Trojans, is well aware of the Rebels’ capabilities.
“They’re very talented. They have one of the best pitchers in the area who’s probably going to get drafted,” Hatfield said. “They have multiple (NCAA) Division I commits in the lineup. I think at least a third of their lineup is going on to play in college, so they’re definitely talented.
“They’re not going to be easy outs, but it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be a great atmosphere for high school baseball, that’s for sure.”
What: IHSAA Class 4A baseball semistate
When: 3:15 p.m. Saturday
Where: Plainfield High School, 1 Red Pride Drive, Plainfield
Who: Roncalli (21-9) vs. Center Grove (24-3)