With a quiet grounder right to first base for the final out, the Center Grove softball team saw its season quietly evaporate in the 90-degree heat.
All year long, the Trojans had been dominating opponents. They came into Saturday’s Class 4A Bedford North Lawrence Semistate ranked second in Indiana and 15th nationally in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25, averaging more than 10 runs per game.
They finally met their match in Gibson Southern hurler Jamie Nurrenburn, who limited Center Grove to four singles and also delivered the fatal blow at the plate as the fifth-ranked Titans pulled off a 4-1 upset victory.
“She’s just a good pitcher,” Trojans coach Russ Milligan said. “We weren’t striking out a whole bunch, but we were hitting her pitch. She was getting ahead of us, and when we jumped on the first pitch we could hit it just didn’t really go anywhere.”
“We can hit a ton, but that girl’s pretty tough.”
Center Grove (28-2) was kept off the board through the first five innings despite putting the leadoff hitter on base three times during that stretch. Nurrenburn kept the Trojans off balance, seldom allowing solid contact despite only striking out three hitters.
Abby Herbst was just as effective early for Center Grove, retiring Gibson Southern in order in each of the first three innings. A window opened for the Titans in the fourth, though, and they took full advantage.
Colby Rogers led off with a base hit and took second on a groundout before coming around to score the game’s first run on a Trojan throwing error. Lauren Lingefelter then drew a walk to put two runners on for Nurrenburn, who then lined a pitch over the left-field wall.
Suddenly, it was 4-0, and Center Grove never recovered.
“We made two mistakes,” Milligan said. “We had a defensive miscue, and (Herbst) missed one pitch to a very good hitter that hit it a ton.”
The Trojans’ best chance for a rally came in the sixth. Piper Belden reached on a two-out error and Jordyn Rudd walked, and Herbst followed with an RBI base hit. Nurrenburn struck out the next batter, though, and then pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to finish it off.
It was a bitter ending for the Trojans, particularly for six graduating seniors who were all major contributors this season — Nikki Abrams, Hanna Burris, Taylor Dishman, Lexi Gaffney, Maddie Keeley and Jessica Lupinetti.
Don’t expect the program to collapse, however — Center Grove still returns a pair of Big Ten recruits in Herbst and Rudd, another big bat in shortstop Tyler LeMasters and slick-fielding second baseman Belden, who had a big postseason.
The Trojans finished the year having outscored their opponents by a 328-45 margin. Saturday just wasn’t their day.
“(Gibson Southern) played well, and they’re reaping the benefits of playing well and playing better than us,” Milligan said.