Center Grove advances in softball sectional

It took five innings, but Center Grove’s softball team finally got on the basepaths enough to place its collective foot on the gas in Tuesday’s Class 4A sectional semifinal.

The host Trojans plated four runs in the fifth, thanks in large part to their aggressive baserunning. That turned a tenuous 2-0 lead into a 6-0 edge and helped the Center Grove cruise to a 9-1 win over Martinsville at Russ Milligan Field.

Meanwhile, fifth-ranked Mooresville eliminated Whiteland and avenged one of its two losses all season, taking Tuesday’s opening game 8-2.

The Pioneers (27-2) will face the Trojans (19-8) at 6 p.m. today for the championship. Whiteland’s season ended at 15-10.

Center Grove earned a shot at its 24th sectional title (its 23 current crowns are tops in the state) thanks to Alexis Rudd and Abbi Patton’s pitching effort, in addition to the baserunning hijinks. Rudd needed just 44 pitches to get through the first five innings, allowing only one hit in the process. Patton allowed a run but fanned five batters in her two innings of work.

Rudd induced six groundouts, and only two balls left the infield.

“I pitch to contact, so whatever happens, I know my defense will be there to back me up,” Rudd said. “When you get ahead (in the count), you can move the batters more and make them chase.”

As for the Center Grove offense, it comparatively sputtered through the first four innings. Ashlynn Wolff’s first-inning infield single scored Hannah Haberstroh, and then Payton Shimansky and Ruby Thompson hit back-to-back doubles to give the Trojans a two-run fourth-inning lead. But they really broke it open in the fifth.

Haberstroh, who finished 3 for 4 with three runs scored, started things off with a one-out infield single then stole second. Riley Janda singled, and took second on the throw to third.

Wolff then laid down a safety squeeze bunt, and after Haberstroh barely beat the throw home and Martinsville attempted to throw out Wolff at first, Janda never hesitated rounding third. When Martinsville first baseman Alaina Lambert hesitated after Wolff reached first base safely, she reacted too late to see Janda scoring.

That made it 4-0 Trojans, and it opened the floodgates. Lex Warner singled to score Wolff, and Rudd concluded the fifth-inning scoring three batters later when she scored on a wild pitch.

“We finally broke through, and we didn’t stop,” Center Grove coach Alyssa Coleman said. “They needed that for their confidence. We’re so close so often (offensively), and finally we broke through a bit.”

The Trojans pounded out 14 hits and stole three bases. Wolff was 2 for 3 with three RBIs, and Rudd went 3 for 3.

Whiteland entered the first game with confidence, having defeated Mooresville 12-8 on May 18. Tuesday, however, Mooresville used a two-run second inning and a four-run third to build a 6-0 lead.

“They were able to find gaps,” Whiteland coach Katie Mitchell said of Mooresville. “We hit the ball as well; they just weren’t falling and we couldn’t piece anything together.”

Mooresville pitchers Josi Hair and Alex Cooper combined for just five strikeouts, while Whiteland’s Debbie Hill tallied six, but the Pioneers also collected 13 hits. During their four-run third inning, Mooresville parlayed a solo home run from Kendall Grover along with four singles, two stolen bases, a fielder’s choice and an error into those four runs.

The Warriors got on the board in the bottom of the third, when Macy Cornelius’ double scored Emma Piercy. Cornelius, who finished 2 for 3, doubled again to lead off the sixth, and Hill scored her three batters later on a sacrifice fly.

Mitchell feels good about the Warriors’ future, as their starting lineup featured seven underclassmen, but she says they’ll miss departing seniors Cornelius and Jordan Smith.

“I’m incredibly proud of this team,” Mitchell said. “It stems from great leadership from Jordan and Macy. They just really embody the teammates that we want our kids to be. So many great things happened this year. We won 15 games and we beat some great teams. I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”