Center Grove softball pulls out narrow regional victory


As her players jogged back to the dugout between innings, Center Grove coach Alyssa Coleman urged them to be ready for their moment.

When Riley Janda’s came, she was ready.

With her squad facing an unlikely deficit in the fifth inning, the senior shortstop hit a line shot over the right-field fence for what proved to be the decisive three-run homer, lifting the Class 4A No. 5 Trojans to a 3-1 regional triumph over East Central on Tuesday evening.

Center Grove (24-6), which ran its winning streak to 14, will face top-ranked Castle in a semistate semifinal at Bedford North Lawrence on Saturday morning.

“She’s a dude,” Coleman said of Janda. “She’s been great all year. She loves the moment.”

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Having put at least one runner on base in each of the first four innings with nothing to show for it, Center Grove got all the runs it needed off of Janda’s bat in the top of the fifth. Mae Munson led off with an infield single and Brynn Meyer followed with a one-out bunt single to set the table for Janda, who had hit a line drive straight at East Central center fielder Payge Callahan in her previous at-bat.

The Louisville recruit left nothing to chance on her next opportunity, delivering her team-leading 11th homer of the year.

“I was looking for something waist high, something that I could drive,” said Janda, who ranks second in the state and first among 4A players with 62 RBIs this season. “I didn’t see that on my first pitch, and I knew that she would bring me something a little bit more up in the zone. And once I saw that pitch, that’s what I took and hit over the fence.”

The three runs held up thanks in large part to a lights-out effort from pitchers Riley Henson and Taylor Barrett.

Henson got touched up early, as East Central (19-10) used a leadoff double from Emily Klem and a triple from Callahan to take a 1-0 lead with one out in the top of the first, but the senior struck out the next three hitters and settled in nicely, allowing just two more baserunners over the remainder of her five innings — one on an infield hit and the other on a throwing error. The Indiana State recruit struck out six without a walk before hitting her pitch limit at the end of the fifth.

“One thing I know about her is I want her to have the ball,” Coleman said.

Barrett came on in the sixth and struck out three while hurling a pair of perfect innings. With just five hits allowed over 12 2/3 scoreless frames going back to the start of the Johnson County tournament, the freshman has been lights out over the last three weeks.

“She always is,” Henson said.

East Central pitcher Montana Plymale was effective if not overpowering, trusting her defense to do the work behind her. She struck out just one hitter but didn’t issue a walk, and she stranded eight Center Grove baserunners while her teammates threw out three others on the bases. Most of the balls that the visitors hit to the outfield found gloves; East Central outfielders combined for eight putouts.

Despite the early frustration, Center Grove had no doubt it would put some runs on the board eventually.

“I trusted them to get hits, and I knew that they would,” Henson said.

Hannah Haberstroh had three of the Trojans’ 12 hits in the win, while Meyer, Janda and Munson added two apiece.

It wasn’t the dominating wire-to-wire victory that Center Grove had in the sectional final against Mooresville last week, but getting tested by East Central could pay dividends in the semistate, where all four teams — the Trojans, the No. 1 Knights, fourth-ranked New Palestine and unranked Cinderella Avon — should be very closely matched.

“It’s easy to walk into some games thinking, ‘Oh, this is easy; we’ve got this one,’” Henson said. “A game like this, where we actually have to try a lot harder, and walk into it not knowing what to expect because we’ve never played them before, it’s something that definitely helps us out with future games.”

“I think that shows that we can handle the pressure and it doesn’t change anything,” Janda added. “We can still deliver, and when runners get on we’re going to score them.”

As for how Coleman will handle the possibility of two semistate games in a single day with her ace on a strict pitch limit — Henson had arm surgery last summer — the coach plans to keep that a secret until Saturday.

Whatever it might be, though, she’s confident that it will work out somehow.

“Don’t worry; we have to have multiple plans,” Coleman said. “But the plan is to win — so we’ll figure it out.”