Center Grove’s baseball team relied on two things to beat Franklin 3-1 in the first round of the Class 4A Whiteland Sectional on Wednesday:
Defense and being opportunistic.
That wasn’t always the case with the Trojans during the regular season.
But that’s what helped Center Grove (16-9) beat the Grizzly Cubs and advance to the semifinals against Franklin Central on Monday.
That and the arm and bat of senior pitcher Jay Prior, who delivered two singles and an RBI to help his cause. Senior first baseman Zeke Howie also had a pair of singles.
The defensive play of junior center fielder Devon Hensley and sophomore shortstop Joey Drury kept the Cubs from scoring more runs.
“Honestly, defense wasn’t our strongest part this year, but today it was,” Center Grove coach Keith Hatfield said. “In my opinion, (Hensley) is the best center fielder in the state. He works hard and played a great game.”
At first it didn’t appear Center Grove was going to get much in the way of hits as Franklin junior ace Evan Giles looked strong in the first inning, striking out the side.
Making things equally bad at first for the Trojans was the hitting of the Cubs, who had three doubles in the first three innings and a 1-0 lead.
But Center Grove found a way to get on base be it through infield hits, walks, solid whacks at the ball and a throwing error. The big inning for the Trojans was their half of the third when Giles gave up two hits, tossed a couple of walks and was hurt on a throwing error that ultimately led to two runs.
That seemed to be the key for Prior, who settled down and only surrendered one hit in the final four innings.
“I had some good movement in my pitches and just worked at my pace,” Prior said. “I didn’t want (Franklin) to take control of the game. I also had some great defense from my teammates. It was a good team win.”
Prior finished with five strikeouts. Giles for his part had 10, but mistakes, four walks and seven Trojans hits added to the frustration and an end to the season for the defending sectional and county champions at 14-11.
Center Grove now faces a familiar foe in the Flashes, whom they beat 3-2 earlier this season.
“We had a hard-fought game against them, and it will probably be that again,” Hatfield said. “We’re playing a lot better now.”