NEW CASTLE — Patience was the key, and the Greenfield-Central Cougars picked the perfect moment to click on Tuesday night.
Tied with Hoosier Heritage Conference foe New Castle 2-2 through six innings, the 12th-ranked Class 4A Cougars’ erupted for four runs on five hits in the top of the seventh to keep their winning streak alive.
“We were getting hits, but we just weren’t stringing them together,” Greenfield-Central head coach Jason Stewart said. “You’re not going to run through the top of our order — one through four — without us stringing something together at least once a game. We’ve done it every game. We were due.”
The Cougars (10-1, 2-0 HHC) opened the seventh inning with the top of their order up and rolled with three hits in the first four at-bats to break the game open en route to a 6-3 win. The victory keeps them perfect in the HHC standings and pushes their winning trend to nine straight.
“The two biggest at-bats were our seven and eight hitters getting on in the sixth, which rolled the top over,” Stewart said. “That’s stuff that people don’t look at, but I walked back to the dugout and told my assistant, that was enormous because I was confident the fourth time through (our lineup) we were going to hit it.”
The Cougars lived up to Stewart’s prediction as lead-off hitter Maria Kihega looped a single to right field, followed by an RBI double to left-center by Greenfield-Central’s career home run queen Morganne Denny.
Up 3-2, the Cougars poured it on with a one-out single by Sam Kihega and an RBI single by Sarah Morris from the fifth hole. A two-out two-run single by Mikayla Durick capped the inning.
Entering the game, Greenfield-Central was hitting .366 as a team and scored 71 runs in 11 contests. Against New Castle, the Cougars racked up 13 hits.
Every batter reached base at least once with Sam Kihega finishing 2-for-4 with two RBIs, and Michaela Ballman going 3-for-4. Durick was 2-for-2, and Morris went 2-for-4.
“Coming in first year of high school and seeing this kind of offense that we have is amazing,” Sam Kihega remarked. “Everyone likes to keep pushing and keep going and never give up.”
Kihega, a freshman, gave the Cougars their first lead 2-1 after trailing 1-0 through the first two innings. The catcher blasted an 2-0 pitch with two outs that smacked the top of the right-field fence at Baker Park for a triple.
The extra-base hit scored two in the top of the third, but New Castle responded in the bottom half.
Mariah Nicholson crushed a one-out solo home run that ricocheted off a tree past the left-center field wall to tie the game. Mackayla Huckeby, who was 2-for-3, drove in the Trojans’ first runner with a single in the first inning. Her second RBI came off a single in the seventh.
Beyond those hiccups, Cougars’ starter Michaela Ballman locked in and and scatter four hits the last three innings for her fourth win of the year. Ballman allowed six hits total, struck out two and was charged with two earned runs.
“(Michaela) pitched a great game. She made one mistake to the girl that hit one that’s probably still going, but besides that she threw a heck of a ball game,” Stewart said. “Once that fourth or fifth inning hit, her and Mikayla (Durick) both have found a couple extra miles per hour when they pitch. As a coach it’s good to see.”
A daunting proposition for hitters at the Trojans’ (7-6, 1-3 HHC) home field where the pitcher’s mound sat closer to home plate than required, according to Stewart.
“When you play on a pitching rubber that’s around 41 feet, it takes a little adjusting to,” Stewart said. “That thing is about two feet short. It was different, but in a conference game, I’d kind of like the pitching rubber to be normal.”
The Cougars adjusted quickly, and need to with three games ahead the next two days. On Thursday they traveled to Rushville and head to Batesville on Friday for a doubleheader.
“With this team, you don’t feel like you’re out of a game, especially one that’s close,” Stewart said. “Any given swing, we feel like someone is going to put it somewhere.”
Greenfield-Central 6, New Castle 3
GC (10-1, 2-0 HHC);002;000;4;—;6;13;3
NC (7-6, 1-3 HHC);100;100;1;—;3;6;0
WP: Michaela Ballman (GC). LP: Gabby Perdew (NC).
RBI: M. Denny, S. Kihega 2, S. Morris, M. Durick 2 (GC); M. Huckeby 2, M. Nicholson (NC).
HR: M. Nicholson (NC). 3B: S. Kihega (GC). 2B: B. Howe (NC); M. Denny (GC).
Notables: M. Ballman 3-4, S. Kihega 2-4, S. Morris 2-4, M. Durick 2-2 (GC); M. Huckeby 2-3, B. Howe 2-2 (NC).