Braden Pinegar used to question whether he would ever get significant at-bats on the Center Grove baseball team.
Ethan Brooks wondered the same thing about himself.
Pinegar and Brooks, both seniors, have seen their loyalty and hard work pay off this season, along with three of coach Keith Hatfield’s other first-year starters.
Center Grove (25-3) captured its first regional title in 20 years Monday night at Evansville’s historic Bosse Field. Today, the Trojans face Roncalli at the Plainfield Semistate at 3:15 p.m.
It’s a special ride neither player is taking for granted.
“It was definitely hard being on JV the past couple seasons,” said Pinegar, the designated hitter. “I had a couple injuries that held me back, but seeing the team go to regionals last year and not being part of it was hard.
“Then I got the opportunity this year, and it was really cool.”
Pinegar is batting .318. Brooks’ average at the plate (.200) takes a backseat to his value defensively in right field.
Hatfield also inserted junior leftfielder Nick Coy into the starting lineup prior to the start of this season. Coy hits second in the lineup behind leadoff hitter Tye Thixton, Center Grove’s senior center fielder.
Talented sophomores Ryan Sauter and Michael Wyman play third base and first base, respectively.
“Wyman, Coy and Ethan Brooks, we expected them to be starting,” Hatfield said. “Braden and Ryan were both third basemen, so it was really a competition in the off-season and through the first part of tryouts with those two.
“Braden was going to play a lot of third base when Joey Drury pitched. Joey had some arm issues this year, so he only pitched one inning. (Pinegar) hasn’t gotten the time in the field or at the plate we expected, which is kind of unfortunate.”
Sauter leads Center Grove with a .405 average to go along with his 15 runs and 16 RBI. Wyman is at .324 with 24 runs and 16 RBI. Sauter, Wyman and Thixton share the top spot in doubles with seven apiece.
Coy has scored 14 runs of his own. He bats .288.
Injuries during his freshman and junior seasons slowed Brooks’ progress. Being part of one of 4A’s final four programs in contention for a state championship more than makes up for it.
The senior understands at a school the size Center Grove, athletes sometimes have to wait until their final year of high school to make an impact.
“You have to think the best,” Brooks said. “As big as Center Grove is, and as big as the teams are, I’m definitely not the only person who has had to go through that.”
There are those who believed the 2015 Center Grove team would be the one making the deep postseason run. That Trojans’ squad finished 24-6 and had four players make first team on the Daily Journal’s annual All-County Team.
Three of those players graduated, but Pinegar never doubted the Trojans could contend for the state championship.
“I grew up with all these guys. We’ve become such a tight-knight group,” Pinegar said. “I’m not surprised. We had a goal at the start of the year, and that was to make it to Victory Field.
“We weren’t going to let anything stop us.”
Below are Center Grove’s five new starters this season, each of whom has contributed to the Trojans’ success with varying degrees of offensive and defensive skills: