The main concern for the Center Grove softball team this season is winning another state championship — but maintaining county supremacy was the task at hand on Saturday, and the Trojans handled it with ease.
Rolling on all cylinders from the first pitch, Class 4A No. 3 Center Grove needed just five innings to overwhelm Greenwood, 21-0, in the championship game of the Johnson County Tournament.
The Trojans (21-1) wasted little time seizing the upper hand against the Woodmen. Hanna Burris led off the bottom of the first inning with a base hit and came all the way around to score on a double into the left-center field gap by Piper Belden, who came in when Abby Herbst dropped a double just inside the line in left. A two-out wild pitch allowed pinch runner Addison Osborn to come home, stretching the lead to 3-0.
In the Center Grove second, Lexi Gaffney drew a leadoff walk, stole second and scored on a Burris single. Jordyn Rudd knocked Burris in with a one-out single to left to make it a five-run game.
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Burris, who went 4 for 4 with a walk and three runs scored, needs to provide a spark out of the leadoff spot while senior Maddie Keeley is out with a high ankle sprain.
“Leadoff sets the tone for the game, so I can’t be striking out or getting out,” Burris said. “I have to set the tone for the rest of the team.”
Center Grove blew the game open in the third, thanks largely to some control issues by the Woodmen.
After walks to the first three hitters of the inning loaded the bases, Gaffney reached on an RBI fielder’s choice. Burris and Belden followed with bases-loaded walks, and after a hard infield hit by Rudd pushed the lead to 9-0, Herbst cleared the bases with a three-run double. Taylor Dishman added an RBI single, and a Tyler LeMasters base hit drove in two more.
Down by 15, Greenwood loaded the bases with one out in the fourth inning, but Herbst was able to get a strikeout and induce a short flyout to center to escape with the shutout intact. Center Grove tacked on six more runs in the fourth on a two-run double by Lexi Fair, RBI singles by Gaffney, Rudd and Osborn and an error.
A third-inning single by Kaitlyn Heffner and a base hit in the fifth were the only hits surrendered by Herbst, who struck out five and walked two en route to the easy win.
Greenwood coach Greg Norwood was disappointed with his team’s performance in the title game after the Woodmen had rallied past Indian Creek, 5-4, in a morning semifinal behind three sixth-inning RBIs from Allison Hayes.
“They have to make a choice and want to fight for things,” Norwood said, “and we just don’t do that all the time, every pitch, every game right now.”
Herbst finished with two hits and four runs batted in at the plate for Center Grove, while Rudd had three hits and drove in three.
Trojans coach Russ Milligan was happiest with the way his reserves, particularly Fair, Osborn and Brittany York, delivered late in the game when given the opportunity.
“I think that’s the story of the game,” the coach said, “that those kids were so in tune with what was going on and stepped up.”
Center Grove advanced to the title game with an 8-1 victory over Whiteland.