GREENFIELD — Even with an especially young lineup, coach Jason Stewart expected this season’s Greenfield-Central softball team to win at least 18 games, the same number as last year’s squad.
What the ninth-year coach didn’t forecast – with 27 freshmen and sophomores and no seniors on the 29-player roster – was a dominant 8-1 start.
The Cougars swept Beech Grove 5-3 and 16-3 in a doubleheader Friday to continue their torrid opening pace to 2014.
In eight victories, the inexperienced varsity group has plated 94 runs.
“We’ve played above what I expected,” Stewart said. “You didn’t really have a clue with this many young kids.
“The biggest thing has been kids that are hitting the ball that we wouldn’t have dreamed of. You’ve got the kids that you expect to do big things, but we’ve got four others that have really surprised us.”
Two of the Cougars’ four surprises, according to Stewart, are sophomores Erika Knapp and Katey Addison, and each played a role in G-C’s Game 1 win over the visiting Hornets (0-6).
With the Cougars trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Codey Miller and Knapp led off with back-to-back singles. With one out, Addison delivered both base runners with a single to tie give G-C a 3-2 lead.
Knapp has been especially hot. After hitting .203 as a freshman, the Cougars’ catcher went 6-for-6 Friday to up her average to .645 (20-for-31).
“I was hoping for her to hit .250 and play good defense this year, and she’s the hottest hitter in the state,” Stewart said. “She’s got 14 straight hits I think and is like 19 for her last 25.”
The Hornets secured a 3-3 tie in the top of the sixth frame off starter Darcie Huber (5-1), but the Cougars put together two runs in the bottom of the sixth with a Miller walk, a Knapp double and a Cali Wheeler single sandwiched around a Beech Grove infield error and wild pitch.
Wheeler and Deena Miller are the other two Cougars to impress Stewart. Wheeler is hitting .500; Deena Miller, .413; and Addison, .294.
Sophomores Wheeler and Addison were borderline JV players in the preseason, Stewart said.
“Now, there’s not too many holes in the lineup,” he noted.
Huber, one of the few returning Cougars with significant varsity experience, pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh to earn the win. Beech Grove stranded nine runners.
There was little drama in the nightcap. In the top of the third, G-C’s first 12 hitters reached base and scored.
Codey Miller, a frosh hitting .423, had three RBI; Knapp and Morganne Denny (another ninth-grader) had two RBI and three hits apiece; Huber, Addison, Madelyn Gibson and Brie Whitaker collected two RBI each; and Wheeler also had a RBI.
G-C freshmen Michaela Ballman (2-0) and Makayla Durick combined for five innings of six-hit ball in Game 2. The duo has provided steady backup to Huber, the established ace.
“(Ballman and Durick) both bring some different stuff,” Stewart said. “It’s good that we don’t have to throw Darcie out there 14 innings tonight. We’ve gotten them both a lot of work so far, and it’s given them a lot of experience and a lot of confidence, and given me confidence that I can put them out there.”
The lone G-C blemishes on the night were instances of the Cougars showing their youth. In Game 1, a G-C baserunner ran through Stewart’s stop sign at third base and was thrown out at home. Another baserunner got caught in a rundown between third and home. A G-C runner was also gunned down trying to advance to third on a bobbled ball by the Hornets catcher. And there was a line drive to the Greenfield outfield that was misplayed from a single into a triple for the Hornets hitter, who later scored.
“I joked with her and said, ‘I’m 260 pounds and you ran within three feet of me and somehow didn’t see me,’” Stewart said of the ambitious Cougar who was gunned down at the plate. “But they get caught up in the moment and want to make a big play happen. You want them not to be afraid, but we’ve got to be smarter.
“And I knew we were going to run into this. You take the good with the bad with freshmen. And we’re getting a lot of good with them right now, so we’ll take the other stuff.”
In addition to predicting at least 18 wins for this group before the season got underway, Stewart also believed that within a year or two, when the freshmen and sophomores grow into upperclassmen, the Cougars would contend for Hoosier Heritage Conference and sectional titles.
He’s not ready to put those burdens on this year’s squad. The Cougars will have winnable contests with Rushville (Thursday) and Batesville (Friday doubleheader) next week, then will face an uptick in competition with Shelbyville (April 29) and Yorktown (April 30) to open HHC play.
“It’s too early,” Stewart said. “Until we start facing some top 10 teams – and it’s coming – then we’ll find out more. I know we’re not going to keep hitting at the clip we are, it’s not fathomable. I understand that and these girls understand that. I tell them, ‘Don’t expect to come out and score 12-15 runs every game. It’s not going to happen.’
“But if we can play defense with Darcie out there – she’s going to keep us in games – I think these kids are getting enough confidence that they’re’ going to be able to play with some of those teams.”
Greenfield-Central 5, Beech Grove 3
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
BG 101 001 0 — 3 9 1
GC 010 202 X — 5 10 1
WP: Huber (6-1). LP: Marschke (0-1).
BG: Wolf 2-4, 2R, 2B, 3B; Marschke 2-3, RBI; White 2-4; Team 9 LOB.
GC: Knapp 3-3, 2B, 2R; Addison 2RBI; Brunk 2-3, C. Miller 1-2 2R; Huber 7 IP, 9H, 3ER, 6K, 4BB.
Greenfield-Central 16, Beech Grove 3
SCORE BY INNINGS R H E
BG (0-6) 200 100 0 — 3 6 0
GC (8-1) 40(12) 0X — 16 14 3
WP: Ballman (2-0). LP: Ford (0-4).
BG: Wright 2RBI; Wolf 2B, RBI; Ausmus 2-3.
GC: C. Miller 2-2, 3RBI, 2R; Denny 3-3, 2RBI, 3R, 3B; Knapp 3-3, 2RBI, 2R, 2B; Huber 2-4, 2RBI, 2R; Addison 2RBI; Gibson 2RBI; Whitaker 2RBI; Ballman 3IP, 3H, 2ER, 2K.