Center Grove softball falls to New Palestine in semistate final


Center Grove came into Monday evening’s Class 4A semistate championship having won 15 consecutive games, its last loss having come against New Palestine back on April 24.

The fifth-ranked Trojans’ hot streak since then didn’t help them find a way to solve the Dragons.

No. 4 New Pal pounded out 13 hits and drew eight walks against four Center Grove pitchers, relentlessly attacking throughout and needing just five innings to cruise to a 14-2 victory and a spot in the state championship game against Hamilton Southeastern.

“I don’t think we saw this coming, going this way,” Center Grove coach Alyssa Coleman said. “We thought it’d be a much tighter game. … They beat our best, and they’re pretty damn good. That hitting is hard to keep up with.”

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The Dragons (26-4) jumped on top for good in the bottom of the first inning when Jersi Gross drew a leadoff walk against Trojan starter Riley Henson and shortstop Allie Blum then drove the first pitch she saw over the right-field fence for a two-run homer. Paige Ernstes and Syd Oliver followed with consecutive singles, eventually coming into score on a base hit and a fielder’s choice, respectively.

Sydney Herrmann got Center Grove (25-7) on the board in the second, crushing a 3-2 pitch to center field for a leadoff home run. New Pal, though, struck back in the bottom of the frame with a two-run double by Oliver and Katie Hirschy’s second RBI single of the evening — a hit that knocked Henson out of the circle and led the Trojans to bring in freshman Taylor Barrett.

After the pitching change, Payton Dye tacked on a two-run double to stretch the Dragons’ lead to 9-1 going into the third.

The third inning saw New Palestine tack on two more runs with two out; Oliver plated Blum with a base hit and then came in on a wild pitch. Center Grove’s third hurler, sophomore Riley Fuhr, kept the boat from capsizing completely, leaving three Dragons stranded with a strikeout, and Barrett hit a solo homer with two out in the fourth to get the Trojans back within single digits.

Oliver, though, made it a 10-run game again in the bottom of the inning with her fourth hit of the evening, a base hit to right field that brought Blum in yet again. Maddie Engle then delivered the kill shot with a two-run single that ended Fuhr’s night and set the stage for a fifth-inning closeout.

New Pal got four hits in as many at-bats from Oliver, who drove in four runs and joined Blum in scoring four; Hirschy collected three hits and a walk.

“We threw the fleet at them,” Coleman said of the Dragons. “Clearly, they’re ready.”

Pitcher Courtney Study kept New Palestine comfortably ahead throughout, allowing just a walk, a Riley Janda single and the two bases-empty homers. She only struck out two hitters but seemingly directed everything in play to a fielder; even when the Trojans did make solid contact, as they did on all four of their fourth-inning at-bats, the ball always found a glove.

Janda appeared to give the Trojans a jolt of energy in the top of the first with what looked like a double just inside the left-field line, but moments after she pulled into second base, the home plate umpire ruled it a foul ball. Janda said afterward that while she thought the ball was fair, it wound up not making much difference in the end.

“At the end of the day, we could have executed more at the plate, and we didn’t,” she said. “And that’s okay; it happens.”

Center Grove says goodbye to four seniors — their ace in Henson, who will pitch at Indiana State; a pair of four-year starters in center fielder Hannah Haberstroh (Ohio State) and shortstop Janda (Louisville); and reserve outfielder Kynadee Warner.

Not surprisingly, there was an extensive outpouring of emotion between teammates young and old after the loss.

“I’m just so grateful to play with the people that I’ve played with,” Janda said of her teammates. “Each one of them made me a better person and teammate and player. I’m so grateful for the past four years.”

For the players returning, Coleman hopes that the setback will teach some valuable lessons that can help them going forward.

“They see how hard it is, how much you have to want it,” she said. “How finite and minute every detail is at this level. You’ve got to be ready every game.”