Every high school softball coach begins the season trying to fill all of the holes that graduation, injuries and the like left in his or her lineup.
Not every coach, however, has someone who is both, A. the best player in the state and, B. selfless enough to play wherever she’s needed.
Luckily for Center Grove coach Russ Milligan, that’s exactly what he’s got in senior Jordyn Rudd.
A right fielder for the Trojans as a freshman and a third baseman as a sophomore, Rudd finally got to settle in at her natural position, catcher, last season. But with six of the 10 regulars from last year’s lineup lost to graduation and a seventh (Tyler LeMasters) lost to injury, Milligan has had to do some more shuffling heading into this spring — and Rudd seems to be on the move again.
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When the Trojans open their season next Tuesday at Whiteland, she’ll likely be lining up at shortstop. Aside from a handful of emergency appearances with her club team, it’ll be Rudd’s first time in the middle infield.
“It’s not completely new to me,” she said, “but it’s pretty new, and I’m trying really hard to completely understand it.”
Milligan said that while Rudd’s relative lack of experience at short means that certain aspects of playing the position won’t come to her as automatically as they would behind the plate, the position ultimately comes down to being able to field ground balls and make clean throws to first, and “she does that better than any of the 33 kids that tried out.”
Even if it does take some time to adjust to a new spot defensively, Rudd’s value with a bat in her hands remains without peer in the state of Indiana.
Last spring, she tied for second statewide with a .667 batting average, was third in home runs with 15 and fifth in runs batted in with 58. Her on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) was an otherworldly 2.077, the best in the state.
Oh, and she did all of that without striking out once. (Rudd has only whiffed four times in her high school career, the last April 25, 2016.)
She is considered the favorite, perhaps prohibitively so, to win Indiana’s Miss Softball award this season.
“If she doesn’t get it,” Milligan said, “it’ll be because she has a horrible year, plain and simple.”
Rudd seems more interested in winning something else that has eluded her and her teammates the past two years — a state championship. The Trojans advanced to the Class 4A semistate last year before being upset by Gibson Southern in the semifinal.
That defeat taught Center Grove a valuable lesson.
“We need to stay positive,” Rudd said. “We kind of shut down in that last game once we were down by a couple of runs, and that’s something we can’t do. We have to stay positive, because we can outhit anyone as long as we keep our heads in the game. That’s what we need to do; that’s what we’ve failed at the past couple of years.”
The expectation heading into the season seems to be that the Trojans won’t fail again.
“This is probably the best team we’ve had out of my four years,” said Rudd, who was a freshman the last time Center Grove won it all in 2015. “We’re just going to keep working hard and put everything together and work as a team. I’m confident that we’ll go far and most likely win that blue ring, but we just all have to get it together.”
“We really are that good,” Milligan concurred. “We’ve got pitching, we’ve certainly got hitting, and with Jordyn unselfishly going to shortstop, we’ve got an infield I’m really, really pleased with.”
Rudd’s willingness to set aside her own individual desires for the greater good came as no surprise to Milligan, who calls Rudd “the best kid I’ve ever coached.”
“And you know why she’s going to do it?” the coach said. “Because softball’s still fun for her, and secondly, she still puts team ahead of self. … That separates her from the herd.”
As if she hadn’t done enough to separate herself already.
A look at Jordyn Rudd’s first three seasons at Center Grove:
* – won state championship