Any game matching the past two Class 4A state softball champions is going to be worth the price of admission.
In the case of Wednesday’s contest between Avon and third-ranked Center Grove, there was none.
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The Trojans, led by the pitching and hitting of sophomore Abby Herbst, rallied for a 6-3 victory to take a 19-1 record into the upcoming Johnson County Tournament.
Originally scheduled for April 20, that game only made it to the top of the third inning before storms and heavy rains pushed it back to a later date. That is why spectators got in free Wednesday.
What they witnessed was Herbst settling down to pitch a six-hitter after giving up hits to two of the first three Orioles batters she faced. At the plate, her first-pitch home run to center field off Avon starter Amy Miller accounted for two runs in the top of the fifth inning.
Her team down 2-0 through three frames, Herbst didn’t panic.
“There was obviously a little bit of tension, but I believe in this team wholeheartedly. I know we’re going to come out and hit,” Herbst said. “It happened last week against Bloomington North. I if I just kept pitching for them, they would back me up.
“I think the fact we were down made me focus even more because I wanted to win for them.”
The Orioles scored one run in the bottom of the first and third innings. Miller, a senior, went through the Trojans’ order the first time with relative ease, allowing no hits and striking out five.
Center Grove’s second time through began in the fourth inning with a leadoff single by leadoff hitter Hanna Burris. Sophomore Piper Belden followed with a double off the right-field wall to put two runners in scoring position.
The Trojans would load the bases and score its first run on a walk to senior Jessica Lupinetti. Another senior, Taylor Dishman, followed with a two-run double to give Center Grove the lead for good.
In the fifth, junior catcher Jordyn Rudd’s two-out double scored Burris. Rudd came home on Herbst’s seventh round-tripper of the season.
As a team, the Trojans now have 25 home runs in 20 games.
Trojans coach Russ Milligan liked the way his players responded after trailing for one of the few times all season against a battle-tested Orioles squad.
“The story here is that Avon is 14-8 now, but they have easily played three times the schedule we have,” Milligan said. “And that prepares you for these moments. We literally hadn’t been in a close game more than four times. Other than that we’re run-ruling people or up five or six runs.
“You need these moments, so hopefully the kids can overcome them and become more used to them. I’m obviously proud of Abby, but then Taylor Dishman comes through with a huge hit for us. With two outs and the bases loaded, we needed a big hit.”
Burris finished with two singles to be the only Center Grove player with more than one hit. Herbst’s pitching performance included eight strikeouts and only one walk.