Senior staff writer
Five Center Grove seniors finally raised a Class 4A state championship trophy in front of their teammates and fans Saturday night at Ben Davis High School.
The Trojans defeated state finals nemesis Lake Central 6-2 as they extended their state record to six state championships and the first since 2009.
They first celebrated on the dirt infield, lined up for high fives with Lake Central, ran to the grass and piled on each other and then took part in postgame ceremonies: the announcement of Center Grove senior Victoria Boyer as the Mental Attitude Award recipient and the presentation of runner-up and state champion medals.
Boyer, daughter of Kevin and Holly Boyer, is a three-year varsity player who will go on a missions trip to Nicaragua this summer. She plans to major in biology and play softball at Palm Beach Atlantic University. The Indiana High School Athletic Association’s executive committee presented a $1,000 scholarship to Center Grove High School in Boyer’s name.
The big moment for the Trojans (29-2) came when IHSAA Assistant Commissioner Sandy Searcy walked toward them on the first-base side of the field and presented the championship trophy to seniors Boyer, Purdue recruit Mallory Baker, Courtney Moriarty, Brandi Heath and Abbey Pratt.
“This is just crazy,” said Baker, who scored the Trojans’ first run. “We worked so hard for this, and it finally happened.”
Playing in their 10th state championship game and fifth against Lake Central (28-7-2), the Trojans led 3-0 before the Indians came back with two runs in the bottom of the sixth. But Center Grove ensured their title with three runs in the seventh.
Maddie Keeley, who had been 0-for-3, reached first on a one-out grounder to center field, and Jordyn Rudd was intentionally walked with two outs. Keeley scored from second when Heath’s grounder went into right field. And then Mandy Dallas slammed the crowning hit, a triple to deep right field that scored Rudd and Heath for the final 6-2 count.
Lake Central’s last at-bat was dramatic. Pratt, who gave up two runs on two hits in the sixth, saw the first two batters reach base with no outs. Coach Russ Milligan went to the mound and brought in Taylor Hammill, who closed the final two innings in the 7-6 semistate title game against Floyd Central.
Hammill fell behind 2-0 on the first two Indians but struck them out. The last batter hit a grounder to Boyer at third for the game-ending force out.
“It (winning) never gets old,” Milligan said. “Winning this big one is justification for all our hard work and for our girls staying calm cool and collected.”
Milligan also talked about bringing Hammill to close the game: “I can’t say enough about Taylor coming in, to sit there for two hours, and throw strikes for us on the biggest stage there is.”
The Trojans built a 3-0 lead over five innings with Moriarty hitting a solo home run and Boyer and Baker crossing the plate.
The teams set a state finals record by scoring a combined eight runs; Center Grove’s six runs also is a record. The previous record was Lake Central’s 5-1 win in 2004 against the Trojans.
The Trojans came from behind in four of six playoff games to reach the state finals.
“We focused on the little things all year long, with this being our only goal,” Milligan said. Certainly every team we played in the playoffs was a very good team. So it was especially gratifying for us to go through such a tough sectional, regional and semistate. Softball is pretty darn good in our state; back in the early ’90s every other team wasn’t very good. Now every team is pretty dang good.”
Pratt finishes 22-2 and will play softball at the University of Montevello (Ala.).
Center Grove expects to return next season with Hammill (4-0, 0.28 ERA) and starters Delainey Turner (.350, 35 hits) at shortstop, Keeley (.337) in left field, Dallas (.380, 35 hits) at second and Maddie London (.370, 27 runs) behind the plate.
The Trojans hit an impressive .397 this season.
(Note: Southsider Voice web Editor Nathan Pace contributed to this article.)