Center Grove High School has employed only two varsity baseball coaches in the past 34 seasons.
Twenty-two belong to Keith Hatfield. Games, not years.
The 2014 season has been one of adjustment for everyone in the program since Hatfield was hired in December to succeed Dave Gandolph, who won 701 games and 15 sectional championships from 1981-2013.
“It’s been a learning experience both for the players and myself. It’s a good group of kids we have here. Very coachable,” said Hatfield, who came to Center Grove after a successful four-year run at Roncalli, his alma mater.
“At first it was just different not seeing coach Gandolph there,” senior pitcher Jay Prior added. “The practice schedule was different, the offseason workouts were different. But I’ve had fun with it, and we still have a lot of work to do.
“We would like to win county, win conference and, obviously, go as far as we can in the state playoffs.”
Center Grove enters this week’s Johnson County Tournament as the No. 1 seed. The Trojans improved to 14-8 and ran their winning streak to three over the weekend with a doubleheader sweep of Class 4A No. 9 Terre Haute South.
As a team Center Grove is hitting .326 and averaging 7.2 runs per game.
Junior center fielder Devon Hensley (.270) is the Trojans’ leadoff hitter as well as their leader in walks (17), steals (9) and runs (24). Left fielder Patrick Norris (.359, 6 steals, 22 runs), a senior, bats second, followed by junior catcher Nathaniel Coy (.364, 14 walks, team-best 9 doubles) and senior cleanup hitter Zeke Howie (.368, 3 home runs, 16 RBIs), the first baseman.
Junior third baseman Josh Hart (.288, 2 HR, 13 runs) and Prior (.329, 2 HR, team-high 20 RBIs) are productive middle-of-the-lineup players. Senior right fielder Braden Sammons (.358, 18 runs, 11 walks), second baseman Ethan Stephen and shortstop Joey Drury typically comprise the bottom of the order.
Aaron Hunt has performed designated hitter duties (.389, 5 doubles, 17 RBI), while Austin Shelton will start at second if need be.
Prior is Center Grove’s No. 1 pitcher with a 5-1 record and 1.08 earned-run average. He has worked 39 innings so far with 31 strikeouts and 16 walks.
Jake Canttleberry is 4-2 with a 4.20 ERA in 28⅔ frames, while Howie and senior Mike Hinton both have pitched a total of 15-1/3 innings. Junior Jade Doyle has recorded three of Center Grove’s four saves.
“In the eight losses I will say there are only one or two bad losses. Almost every one was to a ranked team,” Hatfield said. “I think we’re going to start peaking at the right time. In the past few games we’ve played better defense, and the way we’re pitching ... it’s almost there.”
Being the top seed earns the Trojans automatic advancement to Friday’s county tourney semifinals, where they’ll face the winner of today’s Indian Creek-Greenwood matchup.
Center Grove has yet to play the Braves this season but scored a 7-0 shutout victory at Greenwood on April 18. In that outing, along with the 21 others so far, the Trojans have been a team both to see and hear.
“I am very, very vocal during games, and I think that took the players by surprise at first,” Hatfield said. “I talk a lot, and I want them to talk a lot. It took a while for that to happen, but definitely within the past two weeks it’s really picked up.”