GREENFIELD — The Greenfield-Central softball program has never won a conference championship. That the Cougars even find themselves in the midst of the Hoosier Heritage Conference title chase this spring is an accomplishment and a mild surprise, given the current strength of the league and Greenfield-Central’s last-place HHC finish in 2014.
Morganne Denny homered and scored all of her team’s runs in the Class 4A No. 11-ranked Cougars’ 3-1 win against No. 12 Shelbyville on Tuesday.
“From us coming from not winning a conference game last year to already winning three, that’s fantastic,” said Denny, a sophomore third baseman who helped the Cougars improve to 12-1 overall and 3-0 in the HHC.
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In a league that includes not only Greenfield-Central and Shelbyville, but also nationally-ranked New Palestine (12-1, 3-1 HHC), as well as Pendleton Heights (9-3, 2-0 HHC), the Cougars’ victory Tuesday was pivotal in their championship hunt.
Greenfield-Central coach Jason Stewart noted the “sectional atmosphere” of the contest, and both squads were focused from the start.
TeAnn Bringle led off the game for Shelbyville with a double to straightaway center field and later crossed home plate on a Hannah File single.
The Cougars evened the score in the bottom of the first inning at 1-1 on an infield single by Michaela Ballman that plated Denny, who reached on a walk.
As Greenfield-Central hurler Darcie Huber settled in against the Shelbyville lineup, Denny supplied the key offense — a rocket of a line drive that cleared the right-field fence in a hurry off of File (8-2) in the third inning. It was her fourth home run of the season, equaling Huber for the team lead.
“She’s been hitting some pretty stupid balls lately,” Stewart said of Denny’s awe-inspiring blasts. “The two (home runs) she hit against Delta the other night were ridiculous, and that one tonight may have been one of the hardest hit I’ve ever seen. When she hit it, it was only a matter of if it was going to be high enough to go over the fence.”
Denny’s four home runs, plus 10 RBIs, have come in the past seven games.
“I’ve been feeling it,” she said.
Up 2-1 on her third-inning homer, Denny opened the fifth inning with a single, then advanced and scored on the Golden Bears’ defense, which committed three errors in the frame.
The 3-1 lead was more than enough for Huber (8-0), who got more effective as the afternoon wore on.
The junior kept Shelbvyille — hitting a collective .371 entering the game — to only two hits over the final six innings. She finished with nine strikeouts, including five in the final three innings.
“I think it took Darcie a little while to get loose,” Stewart said of his ace, who was in the circle in Greenfield-Central’s win against HHC rival New Castle on Monday. “She told me after last night’s game that she was a little sore. But, it just shows the heart that kid has. It’s kind of like, ‘Hey, if we want to get there, we have to ride you right now.’”
The “there” for the Cougars is a conference crown, always an accomplishment, but especially so this season for whichever team survives.
New Palestine, ranked No. 1 in the state in the coaches poll and No. 19 in the country by MaxPreps, took its first loss on Monday, 5-4 to Pendleton Heights. Shelbyville’s other loss this season was also to the Arabians, who will visit Greenfield on May 12.
Stewart said the conference is a good this season as he has ever experienced.
“As far as all the way through, I would say it probably is,” the veteran skipper commented. “Even our game against Delta — and no disrespect to Delta, who is probably in last place — it took us a walk-off (home run) to beat them. That just shows you how tough it is. Every game is a freaking dog fight.”
The Cougars and Arabians are the lone conference unbeatens. New Palestine, whose coaches and players were on hand Tuesday at Greenfield, will host Shebyville on Thursday and the Cougars on May 7.
Shelbyville centerfielder Katie Nuthak took a fastball off the finger in the third inning and later left the game. … In addition to a pair of hits by Denny and Ballman’s first-inning single, Huber and Deena Miller had hits for the Cougars. … 4A No. 14 Noblesville handed Greenfield-Central its only loss, 3-2, April 13. … The Cougars host Yorktown (8-4, 1-2) in another HHC contest tonight.