Despite his disappointment in his team’s semistate loss to Roncalli, Center Grove baseball coach Keith Hatfield admitted there was one bright spot.

“I thought it was going to be great for the Southside and turned out to be probably better than anybody could have imagined,” Hatfield said. “Both teams battled and should be proud. There were big defensive plays and big offensive plays. It was a great baseball game.”

The Rebels needed an extra inning to down Center Grove, 8-5, Saturday in the Class 4A semi-state at Plainfield High School. The Rebels (22-9), who scored four runs in the top of the eighth, face 4A No. 1 Zionsville in the title game Friday or Saturday at Victory Field.

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Hatfield said there are a lot of positives to reflect on from the Trojans’ 25-4 season, but that was too tough after the game.

“I’m sure at some point, we’ll do that but not (Saturday),” said Hatfield, a former Roncalli baseball player and coach.

The Rebels took a 3-0 lead after three innings, but the Trojans chipped away with single runs in the fourth and fifth innings.

Center Grove grabbed a 4-3 lead with two runs in the bottom of the sixth.

The tying run came home on a passed ball. Then a run-scoring triple by No. 9 hitter Ethan Brooks gave the Trojans the lead.

However, the Rebels tied it up on run-scoring single by Nick Schnell.

Roncalli blew the game open with four runs in the top of the eighth, finally chasing Center Grove senior starting pitcher Jacob Cantleberry. Roncalli senior Jake Franklin delivered the big blow with a two-run double.

Roncalli senior pitcher Michael McAvene struck out 12 before departing with two runners on and no outs in the bottom of the eighth.

The Trojans added one more run on Triston Clark’s RBI single.

The Trojans must replace 12 seniors, including several starters.

“This group has won a lot of championships,” Hatfield said. “This senior class has more championships in two years than a lot of teams have in four years. It’s going to hurt losing this group, but we built on some things. We’re excited about the guys coming up.”

McAvene dominated early, striking out seven and not allowing a hit until the fourth inning.

“The whole game plan was to make him uncomfortable and I don’t think we made him uncomfortable in the first three or four innings,” Hatfield said. “He got into a rhythm and threw all of his pitches for strikes. So tip your cap to him.

“He didn’t let us use our game plan until the later innings. By then we wasted a lot of energy and didn’t have anything left.”

Hatfield said the only factor the 90-plus degree temperatures likely played was with the both pitchers.

“The longer they went in the heat, the more tired they got,” Hatfield said. “But both battled.”

Roncalli coach Aaron Kroll echoed the sentiment that it was a hard-fought game.

“It’s a really tough, gritty team we beat and I thought we were pretty darn tough and gritty ourselves,” Kroll said.

Kroll said even when Center Grove took the lead, he was confident in sticking with McAvene.

“He’s our guy,” Kroll said. “He was getting tired, but at the same time we felt good about our chances with him.”

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Mark Ambrogi is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.