GREENFIELD — Michaela Ballman could not believe what was happening. This moment felt surreal, like an out-of-body experience.
Her Greenfield-Central teammate and fellow junior, Morganne Denny, stood on base as each ball soared out of the park. At first it was just one, then another. Then the third home run was launched into orbit — and finally the fourth.
In the Class 4A No. 10 Cougars’ season debut April 4, Ballman sent a state-record four home runs over the fence in a rout of Speedway and has six total this season. Mixed with Denny (four home runs) as the team’s No. 2 and No. 3 hitters in the lineup, respectively, Greenfield-Central (9-0) possesses one of the most dangerous 1-2 punches in the state.
“I didn’t know what to say afterwards; I wasn’t expecting any of it,” Ballman said of her performance at Speedway.
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The Cougars’ very own version of the Bash Brothers currently leads Hancock County in home runs as Ballman also leads the Cougars in batting average (.562), hits (18) and RBIs (18).
Although, Denny is not far behind. In fact, their statistics are nearly identical — and equally scary.
Denny, a third baseman, has 17 hits, 14 RBIs and a .548 batting average in the early part of the season. She also has three doubles, a triple and has drawn a team-high nine walks, showing her patience at the plate.
Ballman, who pitches and plays first base, said she has benefited from having Denny, who is committed to IPFW, hit one spot ahead of her.
“She always looking at pitches and never swings at things that are high,” Ballman said. “To be honest, a lot of things help me when she’s up there, just seeing her take pitches.”
It seems to be working. Ballman’s six home runs are good enough for second-best in the state, while Denny’s total is tied for eighth.
“She has gotten a confidence boost,” Denny said of her teammate. “I was on base every time she hit those (home runs at Speedway). I just waited on her to come home and slap her on the back.”
Denny’s best effort came against Westfield on April 13. She sent two shots deep in the team’s home opener and finished with four RBIs in the effort.
Ballman’s latest victim landed on the other side of the left field fence on Wednesday during Greenfield-Central’s 7-3 win against No. 14 New Castle. She also tossed a complete game and earned the win on the mound to improve to 2-0 this season.
Offensively, though, Ballman is just taking form.
College coaches are beginning to notice, too, as the junior is starting to email different programs around the state.
However, according to Cougars head coach Jason Stewart, Ballman and Denny’s recent success stems back to the offseason, where a new approach has paid dividends.
“We did some new strength training this year,” Stewart said. “The girls who committed to it in the offseason, you can tell it’s helping their swings. The balls are just exploding off their bats.”
Even more impressive, the duo is picking up slack for injured senior Darci Huber, who added offensive protection last year with an extremely capable bat. She finished 2015 with nine home runs, 13 doubles and 32 RBIs.
“What’s been big, Maria (Kihega) has been on fire in that No. 5 hole (in place of Huber),” Stewart said. “You really right now can’t say, ‘we’re going to walk Morganne or Michaela and see what happens behind them.’
“If she (Kihega) stays at the pace, we’re going to score a lot of runs. And hopefully with Darci we will get some good news and have a chance to be a really good team offensively.”
Last season, Ballman and Denny each finished with seven home runs, with Denny (.440) adding 31 RBIs and Ballman (.385) finishing with 23. Denny tied with Huber, who will play at Ball State next year, with 51 hits as the then sophomore was also second on the team in doubles (12).
“She has gotten stronger and absolutely crushes the ball,” Stewart said of Denny. “She has been blessed with a great swing and is disciplined. If anything, I would like to see her be more aggressive.
“Her numbers could be even scarier, if that can happen.”
For Ballman, focusing on hitting line drives, and working on her swing at Champions Edge over the winter, is finally translating to the field in live action — and Stewart is loving every second.
“Mac (Michaela) is really fun to watch hit,” he said. “She is driving the ball. She puts a really good fluid swing on the ball and drives it and it goes. She has worked her tail off, and it’s showing.”
But how many home runs does each finish with in their high school careers? It will take another year to find out.
Greenfield-Central, junior, third base
.548 batting average
Greenfield-Central, junior, first base
.562 batting average