GREENFIELD — Sarah Morris has a ritual she faithfully adheres to before every at-bat.
Nothing changed for the Greenfield-Central senior on Friday night against the Anderson Indians, even though the situation was the biggest she’s ever faced in her career.
With two runners on base, two outs and the Class 4A Sectional 9 title game tied 6-6 in the bottom of the 11th inning, Morris didn’t deviate from the norm.
Story continues below gallery
Instead, she embraced it all.
“Before every at-bat I look up in the stands to my parents. They are my motivation. My stepdad (Chris Norwood) said, ‘up on the plate, hit the first pitch.’ He tells me that all the time,” Morris said. “I said to myself, ‘OK.’”
On the first pitch, Morris delivered right on cue, rocketing a clutch walk-off line drive to right field, to score Alexandra Rankin from second base and secure the Cougars’ second sectional title in three years.
“To be honest, I don’t really remember it well. It just kind of happened,” Morris said. “I was actually running to second because I was still in the game. I was completely in shock.”
Her surprise turned to elation as her Cougars’ teammates rushed their home field and swarmed Morris on the base paths in celebration of their 7-6 victory in 11 innings.
Greenfield-Central head coach Jason Stewart pumped his fist ferociously behind home plate while the emotions overflowed on the diamond after a three-plus hour thriller that saw both teams go blow for blow.
“This is the most tense game I’ve ever played in my entire life. It was full of emotions,” Morris said. “Very stressful but super exciting. The energy was out of control.”
Momentum proved elusive throughout, but the Cougars’ (22-6) resolve never wavered despite losing the lead multiple times.
Greenfield-Central went up 1-0 in the bottom of the third off an RBI grounder by Michaela Ballman. They were ahead 3-1 in the fourth as they scored on an error and Kensie Bradley squeezed in a run with a bunt.
But the Indians (14-13) responded again with a three-run fifth inning to pull ahead 4-3.
Greenfield-Central regained the lead 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth behind a Morris RBI-double and an RBI sacrifice bunt from Emily Francis.
The lead swelled to 6-4 in the bottom of the sixth as Ballman drove in Bradley with a grounder to shortstop. Ballman was 2-for-6 with a pair of RBIs.
“This is probably one of the most pressure-filled games I’ve ever been in, but the adrenaline kicked in and it kept me up the whole game,” Ballman said.
Ballman went the distance for the Cougars, exceeding 140 pitches to improve to 10-3, but she had to regroup in the top of the seventh when the tide turned once again.
With two outs, Anderson’s Azariah Fuller kept hope alive with a single. She went 3-for-5 for the Tribe. Sierra Cunningham, who was 3-for-4, wasted little time, launching the first pitch from Ballman over the left-field fence to tie the game at 6-all. Cunningham also hit a double and finished with four RBIs.
“With those kind of things, in this big of a game, you tend to get down on yourself for mistakes like that, but honestly with the team fighting back the way they did, that picks you up,” Ballman said. “There were so many chances they had to score, but we kept it clean. We tried our hardest.”
The defense and Ballman picked up the pieces and moved on quickly, retiring the next eight Indians. Ballman struck out five overall and permitted only one hit against the final 14 batters she faced. Anderson tallied 11 hits total.
“(Ballman) threw her heart out. It’s a credit to her as to what we’ve been able to do the last few years,” Stewart said. “Her name needs to be recognized more. She’s incredible.”
The Cougars bottom half of the order was nearly the same. Morris went 3-for-6 with two RBIs, hitting sixth, while Casey McDaniel, the team’s seventh hitter, was 3-for-5 with a double. Bradley was 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI in the nine hole.
“Sarah, Casey, Kensie, those kids were fantastic today,” Stewart said. “It can’t always be your big hitters, and they made sure of that. They weren’t going to give (Morganne Denny) anything to hit or (Ballman). It came down to those girls to find ways to get on base. They were huge tonight.”
Morris’ hit came minutes after Denny nearly cleared the bases with a long out to the warning track in right field, which was caught at the wall.
“Proud isn’t the word. We’re an out away. They get a bleeder hit and then the girl gets a two-run bomb. We just kept grinding and making big plays defensively,” Stewart said. “Morris has been huge for us the second half of the season. Same thing tonight.”
The Cougars will play at either Lawrence North or Lawrence Central in a one-game regional on Tuesday. The Sectional 10 champion will be determined at 10 a.m. today at Mt. Vernon.
Greenfield-Central 7, Anderson 6, 11 innings
WP: Michaela Ballman (10-3) LP: Kalin Hubble (4-3)
HR: Sierra Cunningham (AHS). 2B: Cunningham, Hubble (AHS); Morganne Denny, Sydney Williams, Sarah Morris, Casey McDaniel, Kensie Bradley (GC).
Notables: Azariah Fuller 3-5, Cunningham 3-4, 4 RBIs, Hubble 2-5, 2 RBIs (AHS); Ballman 2-6, 2 RBIs, Morris 3-6, 2 RBIs, Emily Francis 1-5, RBI, Bradley 4-5, RBI, McDaniel 3-5, Williams 2-6, Denny 1-4 (GC).