Warriors down Center Grove; semifinals next

There will be a new sectional champion.

Whiteland jumped on Center Grove early, scoring four runs in the first inning, then held the usually hard-hitting Trojans to nothing but singles to take a 5-2 win in the first round of the Franklin Sectional on Thursday.

Whiteland (13-13) will now play in a Monday semifinal against the winner of today’s Franklin-FrankIin Central game.

This was the rubber game of the season series between the two Johnson County rivals. Whiteland beat the Trojans in the Johnson County Tournament in April, but the Trojans came back a few weeks later to top the Warriors.

Pitcher Luke Helton struggled early but settled down at the right moments — and in a critical stretch between the fourth to sixth innings, Helton gave up only a bunt single.

The sophomore scattered nine hits and struck out five batters. Even when Center Grove hit the ball hard, they hit it at Whiteland fielders.

“I was nervous when I started, but then I began to pace myself and settle down,” Helton said. “I focused on my pitches and started switching up, and that helped. And working on my hitting with my dad has also paid off.”

Helton also did well at the plate, getting two singles and driving in a run.

Meanwhile, Center Grove’s lefty starter, Jacob Gilcrest, walked two batters, hit two and gave up two singles before Trojan coach Keith Hatfield pulled him.

All told, the Warriors scored four runs in the first inning, which turned out to be more than enough.

“They gave us a window and we took advantage of it,” Whiteland coach Scott Sherry said. “It’s always better to play when you’re ahead than behind and we had a good, solid effort.

“We really had a good four days of practice and kept up our hitting and pitching. Just a great game for us.”

The Warriors scored an insurance run in the fourth inning.

Center Grove (18-9), which had won 14 of 15 games, was hoping to continue its hot streak, and it appeared the Trojans would continue that with two singles in the first inning, but Helton pitched out of danger.

Center Grove did give its faithful hope in the top of the seventh with consecutive singles by senior Nick Coy and freshman Bryce Eblin, but reliever Tyler Robinson struck out the next batter and got Braden Parks to ground into a double play to end it.

“Credit (Helton),” Hatfield said. “He made the pitches and was on cruise control.”

For Center Grove, the disappointing loss no doubt hurts, but with only four graduating seniors, the Trojans can look forward to a very promising future.

“We were young, but we’re proud of the accomplishments of this team,” Hatfield said. “This team made an impression and we have a lot of players coming back.”

Author photo
Ken Severson is a sports correspondent for the Daily Journal.