Cougars challenge champs, come up short in semistate


BEDFORD — The Greenfield-Central Cougars knew their path to a potential semistate championship wasn’t going to be easy.

Pitted against defending Class 4A state champion No. 12 Avon in the first semifinal game of the Bedford North Lawrence Semistate, the No. 15 Cougars were hoping for a few breaks.

Unfortunately, they all went the Orioles way Saturday afternoon.

The Cougars (23-7) struck first for a quick 3-0 lead in the first inning, but the Orioles charged back with a six-run bottom of the fourth en route to their eighth straight win, 7-3.

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Avon (23-8) later beat No. 5 Gibson Southern 2-0 in the finals Saturday night after No. 2 Center Grove was upset in the afternoon’s second semifinal 4-1.

The Cougars were seeking their first semistate championship since 1987, less than a week after snapping a seven-year regional title drought.

Despite falling behind, the Cougars never stopped pushing the Orioles to the brink, loading the bases in the bottom of the seventh before the final out was recorded.

“That’s the way they fought all year,” Greenfield-Central head coach Jason Stewart remarked. “A lot of people thought last year was going to be the year for us, and injuries and other things didn’t allow it to be. This group decided they weren’t just going to finish out this year. They fought until the last out. I’m proud of them.”

Greenfield-Central came out determined to extend its winning streak to five straight games with a three-hit top of the first.

Maria Kehiga led off the inning with a double — her fourth this season — and Morganne Denny, an IPFW recruit, drove her in for her team-leading 43rd RBI. A two-run home run by Michaela Ballman — her eighth — put the Cougars in control.

Ballman, who entered the game 11-3 as starter, held the Orioles in check through three innings, retiring nine of 10 batter faced.

The momentum swung in the top of the fourth however, as Avon used two errors and seven hits to take a 6-3 lead.

“The biggest thing in this game, and if you’re going to win a state title, you have to have luck, and that inning they scored six, they got a whole bunch of it,” Stewart said. “It’s good to be good, and it helps to be lucky. They’re both right now.”

A two-run home run by Amy Miller fueled Avon’s turnaround. The Orioles added another run in the seventh off an RBI single by Paige Eichelberger.

Miller improved to 10-3 after going 4.0 innings with four strikeouts, while Haylie Foster (12-2) pitched the final three frames with two hits allowed in the seventh.

“If anyone would have told me we would be playing with the state champs and be within two or three plays of them in the final eight, I would have taken it in a heartbeat,” Stewart said.

Instead, the season closed on a record-setting senior group, including Denny, who played a majority of the year limited by a leg injury.

Denny departs as the program’s all-time single-season (14) and career (35) home run (14) leader. She also broke the school record for career hits (198).

The seniors helped the Cougars clinch the Hoosier Heritage Conference in 2015 while setting a new wins record with 27. They hit a team record 32 home runs this season and captured their second sectional title in three seasons.

“They can probably stake claim on being the most successful class in this school’s history,” Stewart said. “They’re a tremendous group. Most have been four-year starters. It’s going to be tough going out for winter practices and not seeing these girls. But I’m happy with the year we had.”

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Avon 7, Greenfield-Central 3

AHS (22-8);000;600;1;—;7;11;1

GC (23-7);300;000;0;—;3;5;2

WP: Amy Miller (10-3) LP: Michaela Ballman (11-4)

HR: Miller (A), Ballman (GC). 3B: Sydnie Foster (A). 2B: Kamrie Foster, Sidney Jones (A); Maria Kehiga (GC).

Notable: Morganne Denny 1-3, RBI, Ballman 1-3, 2 RBI (GC).