Center Grove softball outduels Whiteland in county final

Twenty-two games and well over a month later, Riley Henson hadn’t forgotten.

Center Grove’s sophomore pitcher was on the hill the day her team lost the season opener at Whiteland, 7-6.

On Saturday, the poised left-hander turned the tables, striking out 15 Warrior hitters in a 1-0 Trojans victory in the championship game of the Johnson County tournament.

Ranked second in Class 4A, Whiteland lost its first game of the season after a 20-0 start.

“She wants the ball. She’s fabulous,” Trojans coach Alyssa Coleman said of Henson, who issued one walk and allowed a pair of infield hits to Whiteland freshman right fielder Kiley Sullivan. “We knew it was all about getting to this game and giving her the ball.

“We had to play clean. Whiteland deserves (to be ranked second). We knew they were going to be great, and that they have (senior pitcher Debbie Hill) and (catcher Haley) Wilkerson. They are studs, so we knew it was going to be about executing the small ball, getting ahead on (Hill) and just being aggressive like we are, and not running away from our game plan.”

Henson wasted no time demonstrating she meant business.

She struck out the first two Warriors to come to the plate and a total of six in her first tour of the Whiteland batting order. During one stretch encompassing the second, third, fourth and fifth innings, Henson fanned eight of the 10 batters she faced.

A far cry from the game March 29, when the Warriors produced five runs in the bottom of the first and finished with 11 hits.

Since the opener, Whiteland had gone on to gradually climb toward the top of the 4A poll.

In other words, Henson wasn’t lacking motivation.

“The energy that it brings is just crazy,” Henson said. “It’s just a fun game. It’s awesome. Going into it, I hoped I would have this kind of game, but I didn’t expect it. And then once I started, I was, like, okay, here we go.

“The key was to get ahead early and find their weaknesses.”

Warriors senior pitcher Hill had been similarly dominant through the first five innings, but Center Grove finally earned what proved to be the deciding run in the top of the sixth.

Sophomore leadoff hitter Hannah Haberstroh started with a walk. She moved to second base on a wild pitch and advanced to third on junior Ashlynn Wolff’s flyout to right field. Soph Riley Janda then hit into a fielder’s choice, which enabled Haberstroh to score.

The Warriors looked as though they might make some noise in the bottom half when junior Emma Piercy was hit by a pitch with one out. Piercy attempted to steal second, but Center Grove catcher Payton Shimansky was having none of it, unloading a frozen-rope throw to second for the out.

Hill, also a lefty, went the distance, allowing three hits, walking one and striking out 11.

“(Henson and Hill) are both very tough and both teams are really good, so we just knew it was going to be a game like that,” Warriors coach Katie Mitchell said. “I think this is part of the game. We know our sectional and our conference are tough, and we’re going to face teams like this, especially late in the season, so it’s good for us.”

Earlier in the day, Center Grove and Whiteland both posted semifinal shutouts to qualify for the final. The Trojans erupted for eight runs in the bottom of the fifth to defeat Greenwood, 10-0, in five innings. The Warriors advanced to the title contest with a 6-0 victory over Franklin.