CHARLOTTESVILLE — It wasn’t pretty, but Greenfield-Central picked up its 10th victory of the season Monday, downing Hancock County neighbor Eastern Hancock 10-6.
At 10-6 overall and 5-1 in Hoosier Heritage Conference play, the Cougars are in contention for their second straight conference crown, sitting tied with Shelbyville (5-1) atop the HHC standings.
Though the blue and gold stand a good chance at defending its HHC championship, if the team fails to clean up its defense, it’s just going to make its title defense that much more difficult.
G-C has struggled defensively in recent games, and the trend continued Monday, as it committed five errors and had other mental lapses that allowed the Royals to climb back into the game after falling behind 9-1.
In the Cougars’ doubleheader split with Lawrence Central and Brownsburg Friday, second-year Cougars’ coach Brian Murphy was displeased with his team’s defense. G-C committed 11 errors in the three games it played leading up to Friday.
“I looked down at my card and it looked like I’ve got a crush on a guy named Eddie – there were Es all over my card,” Murphy joked Monday. “We kicked the ball around. To their credit, they put the ball in play.
“We always talk about with our guys, ‘Don’t go down. Put the ball in play.’ You put the ball in play, you’ve got a good chance of winning the baseball game. That’s what they did. They put the ball in play and when they did, we kicked it around for them.”
EH (4-9) suffered through its own defensive lapses, registering two of its three errors during the Cougars’ seven-run third inning. But, the blue and white rallied, closing to within 9-6 after tallying a four-spot in the home half of the sixth inning.
“Greenfield’s a good team. They’re having a good season,” Royals’ coach Chad Coughenour said. “Our boys didn’t die. They kept battling and fighting. We got down 9-1 and all we kept talking about was, ‘Keep chipping away, keep chipping away, keep chipping away.’”
Sporting a 1-0 advantage, the first seven Cougars to come to the dish in the top of the third reached on six singles and a walk. The damage could’ve been worse, but EH’s Robbie Leffew came on to record the final out.
G-C would go on to add a run in the fourth and seventh, and wound up with 15 hits. Jared Banton (2-for-2, two walks, run scored, sacrifice bunt, stolen base), Syrus Fletcher (3-for-3, hit by pitch, three runs, stolen base) and Nick Johnson (3-for-3, double, RBI) combined to reach base 11 times.
Coughenour said big innings have plagued his squad all season.
“We had that one bad inning there, that third inning was a bad inning for us. We got in that situation where we gave up seven runs,” he said. “That’s the way it’s kind of been for us this year – we have that one inning with a couple plays that we don’t quite make. You make those and we hold them to one or two runs – and we ended up giving up seven. That’s how it goes sometimes.”
But the Royals would not go away, due in large part to their assertive base running.
The hosts plated a run in the third when Austin Lacy stole second and the ensuing throw down allowed Garek Ferguson to score from third. In the fifth, Ferguson reached on an infield single, moved up to second on a wild pitch and scored on a Cougar error.
EH was successful in all three of its steal attempts Monday, upping its season total to 50.
“We are an aggressive ball team,” Coughenour said of his team’s propensity for diamond theft. “Sometimes the coach can get in the way of that, but we let them run. They do a good job of that.”
In the sixth, the Royals plated four runs without recording a hit. G-C gave the hosts a run when a wayward throw to second from the infield turned into an inaccurate return throw from the outfield, resulting in a two-base double error. EH also scored a run on a passed ball, but couldn’t take advantage of a dropped infield pop-up.
In the end, the Cougars’ lead was just too big to surmount. Nick Johnson pitched three innings to garner the victory with Tate Hall coming on in relief.
“We got out to the big lead and to their credit, they kept battling and fighting. They brought it back,” Murphy said. “A couple hits and a couple walks, and they’re on top and we’re walking out angry.”
G-C is at common Sectional 9 foe Connersville (11-8) today – the Cougars beat the Spartans in last year’s sectional final – before hosting Delta (10-7, 4-6 HHC) Friday.
“It’s a big week,” Murphy said. “… I hope we’re excited to get back to conference play. We had a two-week break. Delta’s going to be ready to play.”
A year after finishing 2-20, the Royals are seeing doses of improvement from what’s becoming an experienced varsity roster.
“Almost all of them are back. Most of these guys are young – we only have two seniors,” said Coughenour, now in his ninth season in Charlottesville. “They’re learning how to play the game, they’re not giving up and they’re fighting hard. I can’t be more proud of them today. They did a great job.”
EH (1-3 Mid-Hoosier Conference) returns to action today at Edinburgh (2-10, 0-3 MHC). The Royals then host Indianapolis Kings Homeschool (1-2) Thursday and travel to Daleville (8-6) for a doubleheader Saturday.
“We’ve got a big week coming up,” Coughenour said. “We talked to the boys about taking it one game at a time, and that this is a good stepping stone. We’ve got the conference game (today) and we’ll take it from there.”
Notes: For Eastern Hancock, Ferguson finished 1-for-3 with two runs scored and a stolen base. Cole Fout walked twice. Leffew had an RBI. … Drey Jameson notched two RBI for Greenfield-Central. Dallas Pribble was 2-for-3 with two RBI and a sacrifice fly. Slater Rush was 3-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored.
Greenfield-Central 10, Eastern Hancock 6
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
GC (10-6) 017 100 1 — 10 15 5
EH (4-9) 001 014 0 — 6 3 3
WP: Johnson (N/A). LP: Clutinger (1-3).
GC: Banton 2-for-2, 2 BB, R, SAC, SB; Fletcher 3-for-3, HBP, 3 R, SB; Jameson 2 RBI; Johnson 3-for-3, 2B, RBI; Pribble 2-for-3, SAC, 2 RBI, R; Rush 3-for-5, 2 RBI, 2 R.
EH: Ferguson 1-for-3, 2 R, SB, BB; Fout 2 BB; Leffew RBI.