FORTVILLE — Jason Stewart knew what it would take before the game even began.
If his Class 4A No. 8 Greenfield-Central softball team was going to leave Mt. Vernon a sectional champion for the first time since 2010, new heroes would have to emerge.
“I told Morganne (Denny) and Darcie (Huber) they probably weren’t going to get much to hit today,” Stewart said of top offensive threats. “So I knew some other girls were going to have to come up big for us.”
Sydney Williams, Sarah Morris and Michaela Ballman got the message.
The three underclassmen, in turn, delivered in the biggest game of their lives to help the Cougars claim the Sectional 9 crown Wednesday night in Fortville with a 4-3 victory against Pendleton Heights.
It’s amazing to think it was those three, Stewart said after the game, because none began the season on Greenfield-Central’s varsity roster.
“It just goes to show you how deep this team really is,” he said.
It was Ballman who stepped up first.
The sophomore broke open a scoreless game in the third inning with a solo shot deep over the left-centerfield fence to give the Cougars (27-4) a 1-0 advantage.
She would reach base in all four of her plate appearances, finishing the game 2-for-2 with the long ball and a pair of walks.
A batter after Ballman’s blast, Erika Knapp cracked a single and came around to score on a ball slapped through the legs of the Arabians’ third baseman to push the Cougars’ lead to 2-0.
The Arabians (15-12) manufactured a run in their half of a lightning-delayed fourth inning before Morris took her turn in the spotlight.
The 10th-grader collected the second of what would be a three-hit evening in the bottom of the fifth. The base-knock single boosted Greenfield-Central’s lead to 3-1.
“That was just a big two-out hit,” Stewart said of the ninth-place hitter, who played catalyst all evening. “She was huge tonight. She has so much talent. If she can figure it all out, she can be such a weapon for us.”
However, with the game then seemingly in hand, disaster struck Greenfield-Central.
With a two-run lead and one out in the sixth, the Cougars committed an error with two Arabians on base, gifting their opponents the game-tying runs.
The gaffe could have and probably should have deflated the Cougars, Stewart said. But it didn’t.
Instead, they promptly regained control in the bottom of the sixth.
An “angry” Huber got things started with a one-out double, and Casey McDaniel, Huber’s courtesy runner, advanced to third on a Ballman single.
Then, it was finally Williams’ time to to shine.
The freshman, who had gone 0-for-3 to that point, laced the game-winning RBI double into left-centerfield gap to give the Cougars their 4-3 lead.
“It felt amazing,” Williams said afterwards. “I was so nervous, but I couldn’t have done it without the team cheering me on and everyone having confidence in me.”
Shortly after Williams’ double, Huber retired the Arabians 1-2-3 in the top of the seventh to clinch the sectional title.
For Huber (20-1), it was her third straight complete-game victory in as many days. On Wednesday, the junior limited the Arabians to just four hits and one earned run during her seven innings of work.
As for the underclassmen heroes, Ballman, Morris and Williams finished the game 6-for-9 with two walks, two RBIs and a run scored.
“They’ve all come in so clutch when we needed them,” Huber said of the underclassmen. “They’ve been there for us. And that’s part of being a team, knowing you can rely on everyone, and today, they deserve so much credit.”
For the Cougars, it is their seventh sectional title in program history. They now move on to regionals, which begin Tuesday. They will take on the winner of Roncalli versus Cathedral, who play at 5:30 p.m. Friday to determine the Warren Central Sectional 10 champion.
[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”Sectional Schedule” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]
2A Sectional 41 at Cambridge City Lincoln
Centerville 10, Knightstown 3
Cambridge City Lincoln 1, Union County, 0
Hagerstown 10, Northeastern 4
Eastern Hancock 2, Centerville 0
Cambridge City Lincoln 7, Hagerstown 0
Championship: Eastern Hancock vs. Cambridge City Lincoln, 6 p.m.
4A Sectional 9 at Mt. Vernon
Pendleton Heights 17, Connersville, 0
Greenfield-Central 3, Anderson 1
New Castle 7, Richmond 3
Pendleton Heights 3, Mt. Vernon 2
Greenfield-Central 11, New Castle 4
Championship: Greenfield-Central 4, Pendleton Heights 3
4A Sectional 13 at Center Grove
Center Grove 4, Greenwood 1
Franklin Central 5, Whiteland 1
Center Grove 3, Franklin Central 2
New Palestine 14, Franklin 2
Championship: Center Grove 8, New Palestine 7, 9 innings