PENDLETON — There wasn’t a hint of doubt in Jason Stewart’s mind late Monday night. Even with his Greenfield-Central Cougars down 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh during the Class 4A Sectional 9 quarterfinals at Pendleton Heights, Stewart was confident.
Anderson (9-14) rallied back with a two-run home run from Kalin Hubble with two outs in the top of the seventh. The bomb came off a 1-1 offering from Darcie Huber.
The Cougars had one more shot, however.
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“I’m thinking I have two of the best hitters in the state coming up and we still have a good chance,” Stewart said.
They had more than that with their playoff backs against the wall.
Huber, who earned the win after making her first start of the season, opened the bottom of the seventh with a single. Morganne Denny drew a walk and with one out, a flyout to center field by Sydney Williams was the heroic blast.
Huber scored from third after a diving catch by Anderson’s Sierra Cunningham sent her to the ground. Freshman Alexandra Rankin, who was courtesy running for Denny, sprinted from second base to score the winning run 4-3.
“Our season has been this in a nutshell. We can not catch a break,” said Stewart, whose team improved to 16-9 after a 27-5 record in 2015. “We finally caught a break in that game, and it’s something to build on.”
Fortitude has been the theme for the Cougars in 2016, with Huber sidelined most of the year, and other injuries beginning from training camp slowing down the squad, still trying to find itself on occasion.
“That’s the one thing about our girls. They haven’t and won’t quit. That’s who they are and they’ve faced adversity all freaking year with injuries, battling the weather and trying to get practice in. That could have rocked quite a few teams and put them down,” Stewart said. “But we have leaders at the top.”
With hopes of a sectional repeat, Huber and Denny calmed everyone with their actions.
Denny finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs, including a solo homer and Huber pitched 31/3 innings with three strike outs. She also went 2-for-4.
“I wasn’t too worried about giving up that big home run. I was aggravated with myself but I knew my teammates have my back,” Huber said.
Huber’s first pitch of the game induced a swinging strike. The first two batters she faced were strikeout victims with one looking and the other missing on two of three consecutive pitches.
Huber put the Cougars’ offense in motion with a leadoff double — her fourth this season — which she lined into left-center field in the bottom of the first. Morganne Denny followed Huber with an RBI double, giving the Cougars an early 1-0 lead with her 34th run batted in this year.
Denny clubbed her 10th home run of the year in the third to put Greenfield-Central up 2-0. Her shot broke the school’s record for homers in a single season with 28. They set the mark with 27 last spring.
Huber missed the beginning of the season as she continued to recover from offseason elbow surgery. She suited up for her first game on April 22 against Batesville, finishing 2-for-3 with a double.
She quickly built a .481 batting average with 12 RBIs and three home runs in 15 games played this spring. Last year, Huber hit .472 with 32 RBIs and nine home runs in 31 games. As the Cougars’ pitching ace in 2015, she was 20-2, struck out 211 and carried a 1.15 ERA.
Michaela Ballman came in and relieved Huber in the top of the second after a 1-2-3 top of the first and continued to keep the Indians at bay until a lead off double by Rachel Duncan in the fourth.
Huber, who had moved over to second base, returned to the circle and limited the damage to one run in the top of the fourth inning.
After getting Sierra Cunningham to pop up to Makayla Durick at second base, Huber surrendered a single and the defense narrowly missed a tag at home as Duncan scored from third with one out on a sacrifice bunt.
A swinging strikeout by Anderson’s Alyson Milburn ended the threat.
In their ongoing game of musical pitchers, Ballman, who switched to first base in between pitching cycles, took the ball from Huber for two frames in the second and third and the fifth.
Ballman and Huber both tried to close out the game out in the top of the seventh with the former bookending the night. Ballman induced a pair of pop ups, but Huber’s 1-1 pitch to Hubble soared over the right-field wall.
Ballman threw 3⅔ innings with three strikeouts.
Greenfield-Central will play Richmond in the Sectional 9 semifinals at 5:30 p.m. today. Richmond beat Muncie Central 13-8 in the first quarterfinal game. Host Pendleton Heights plays New Castle in the second semifinal at 7 p.m.
“Last year, we came out first game of sectional and kind of dropped the ball a little bit, then we went out and smashed it to win,” Huber said. “It’s good to know we’re there for each other.”
Class 4A Sectional 9
at Pendleton Heights
Greenfield-Central 4, Anderson 3
WP: Darcie Huber LP: Shelby Wright
HR: Denny (GC)