Noticing the flight of the softball she just hit toward right field, Maddie Keeley began bracing herself for the possibility of a dugout conversation with her coach.

Center Grove’s senior leadoff hitter was in a full sprint between first and second base when the ball cleared the fence.

Home run. The first and so far only one of Keeley’s four-year career as a Trojans starter.

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Now what?

“I was actually kind of mad because (coach Russ Milligan) told me not to pop up. I looked up, and it was in the sky,” said Keeley, remembering her third-inning round-tripper in Center Grove’s 6-0 win at Carmel on April 11. “Then it went over and I was kind of shocked. By the time I got to second, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. I’ve got to slow down. I’m out of breath.’”

Finding a lower gear has never been Keeley’s style.

At 5-foot-5 and 110 pounds, Keeley’s speed on the base paths and covering left field are two of the reasons the Trojans are 17-1 and ranked third in Class 4A entering Monday’s nonconference game at Decatur Central.

Keeley’s evolution has been gradual, from flex player as a freshman to the No. 9 and then No. 2 hitter for the 2015 state championship squad. Last season, she hit a torrid .459 and scored 31 runs.

Now the team’s leadoff hitter for the first time, Keeley is embracing the role.

“It’s definitely pitch selection. You need to know what pitch you can hit hard and where you need to place it to get on base,” said Keeley, who has signed a national letter of intent to play softball at IUPUI.

“I think you need to be able to scare the outfield. Move them back a little bit so that our bunters have room to place the ball. I have great bat speed, and if you can your bat through the zone in a great manner, it goes.”

Monday’s game against the Hawks will be the 90th one Keeley has played in at Center Grove. Along the way she’s crossed home plate a total of 72 times.

One of the runs came two years ago in the Trojans’ 6-2 victory against Lake Central in the 4A title contest.

Overall, the Trojans are 90-15 during Keeley’s career.

“Maddie went from a young lady who kind of lucked into a starting position her freshman year from us having a lack of outfielders,” Milligan said. “Boy, she went through a learning curve, but she steadily and slowly got better and better, and right now she’s one of the best in the state offensively and defensively.

“She’s just one of those tough kids that I wouldn’t put anyone else out there. A great kid and a great leader.”

By the numbers

THE KEELEY FILE

Maddie Keeley’s career statistics as a member of the Center Grove softball program:

Year;Avg;Runs;SB

2014;.125;1;0

2015;.333;18;3

2016;.459;31;6

2017;.369;22;2

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Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at mbeas@dailyjournal.net.