The state’s top-ranked team doesn’t need much help to put together big innings.
Center Grove got plenty of help from Greenwood in the second inning on Monday evening and put it to good use. Seven walks and a hit batter, compounded by two home runs from Drew Culbertson, added up to a 14-run frame that allowed the Trojans to roll to a 16-0 win over the Woodmen in the title game of the Class 4A Mooresville Sectional.
”As long as you’re taking advantage of those, which I thought we did,” Center Grove coach Keith Hatfield said. “We got big hits when we needed to, took advantage of the walks. That’s what you really want to see as a coach. … It was good to see us put some pressure on them.”
Next up for Center Grove (26-3) is a regional game against Columbus North this Saturday. The Trojans beat the Bull Dogs, 8-2, back on April 10.
Greenwood starter Logan Connor got through the first inning without much trouble but got himself into immediate danger in the top of the second, hitting Grant Sawa with a pitch before walking Bradley Gilliam and A.J. Beggs to fill the bases up with nobody out.
A four-pitch free pass to Kobe Cherry pushed one run across, and another walk — Connor’s fourth in a row — forced Gilliam home and prompted a pitching change. The immediate results were no different, as reliever Brendan Bailey came in and issued a walk to Noah Coy, but Drew Culbertson decided to speed up the carousel by driving a 2-2 pitch over the wall in right field for a grand slam.
Center Grove’s first hit of the evening made it a 7-0 game.
“You’ve just got to stay in that green-green mentality, looking for strikes early and attack anything you get,” Culbertson said. “He went fastball away, and I stayed on that one and I got a hold of it just enough.”
The Trojans weren’t done yet. Singles from Garrison Barile and Evan Zapp, followed by a walk to Sawa, loaded the bases again for Gilliam, who walked to force in both a run and a new pitcher. Beggs greeted Jayden Pierce with a grounder up the middle, which glanced off the new hurler’s glove for an RBI infield single, and Gannon Grant followed with a two-run single.
With two out and a runner on second after Coy’s sacrifice fly made it 12-0, Culbertson came up and hammered a pitch over the left-field fence to cap the massive inning with a two-run shot.
Zapp and Gilliam both scored on passed balls in the third inning to stretch the margin to 16 against Cade Kelly, the fourth Greenwood pitcher. Kelly settled down and retired the final seven hitters he faced, but by that point it was far too late for the Woodmen.
Caden Cornett went the first four innings on the hill for Center Grove, allowing one hit and two walks while striking out six. He did not allow a runner to get past second base. Brady Walker threw a scoreless fifth to close it out.
In its morning semifinal, Greenwood (16-15) overcame an early three-run deficit to post a 5-3 win over Martinsville behind the pitching of Micah Vessely. The Trojans advanced into the final with a 4-1 victory over Bloomington South. Noah Coy hit a two-run homer to key a three-run fourth inning in the win.
The lopsided defeat couldn’t take away from what was by all accounts a successful season for the Woodmen, who more than doubled their win total from a year ago and return all but three players next spring.
“We’re proud of them,” said Greenwood assistant Connor Morris, who steered the ship with head coach Andy Bass in Idaho watching his son T.J. play in the NAIA World Series. “This is the first winning season we’ve had since 2015 or 2016, and we’re bringing back a lot of juniors. So just to get them in an environment where we’re winning and competing in close baseball games, and getting to a sectional (final), regardless of the result, hopefully good things will come for us next year.”
Center Grove, meanwhile, moves on to the next round in search of its first regional championship since 2016.
“They don’t know,” Hatfield said. “There was only three of them on the ‘21 group that lost down in Jasper, so it’s a new team; it’s a new mindset. Those three were sophomores just kind of thrown into the fire. … They’ll be confident.”
Confident, but taking nothing for granted.
“Postseason, anything can happen,” Culbertson said. “You’ve just got to go in there with a level mindset — just go at them, win every game, win every pitch, everything. One by one; you just never look ahead of anybody.”