7th-inning homer seals the deal
BEDFORD – Floyd Central’s quest for a historic softball semistate championship suffered a brutal end on Saturday night.
In the top of the seventh inning, Center Grove’s Mallory Dallas cranked a drive to the left-field fence, and the ball bounced off the glove of Floyd Central’s Taylor Castleberry and over the barrier, a home run that gave the No.3 Trojans a 7-6 victory and a berth in the Class 4-A state championship game.
The final blow, in a game of many swings and possible conclusions, was stunning. With one out, with tension cranked to a maximum level, Dallas hammered a deep ball that Castleberry raced under and reached up to snag backhanded as she neared the five-feet-high fence.
But it fell out of the glove, and over as Castleberry banged into the fence, and the Highlanders – playing in their first semistate final – fell with it.
Floyd Central (28-7-1), which had battled back from three deficits, could not recover that run. The Highlanders went quietly in the bottom of the frame and watched helplessly as Center Grove won its sixth semistate and first since 1998.
Floyd Central coach Scott Castleberry, who is also Taylor’s father, made no excuses.
“If you have a shot at catching it, you catch it,” Castleberry said. “That’s our philosophy. She gave it a great shot. But at the end of the day, she missed it. What do I tell her? You let it go. You just bounce back. That’s all you can do.”
Momentum didn’t take sides. The Trojans scored twice in the first inning with four hits off Floyd Central ace Kassie King (15-4), but the Highlanders came back with two runs as Jensen Streigel and Castleberry kick-started the offense. Striegel tripled and scored and Castleberry later stole home.
Center Grove’s Malloy Baker slugged a two-run home run in the second, and again Floyd Central answered, taking a 5-4 lead in the fourth inning. Center Grove scored twice in the 5th, and the
Highlanders tied it at 6-6 on King’s RBI single. Back and forth they went, neither giving an inch.
“It was a great game,” Scott Castleberry said. “They’re a great hitting team. That’s probably the most hits against Kassie in a long, long time. You have to give them credit.”
Center Grove totaled 11 hits, three for extra bases. Striegel had three hits for the Highlanders.
“She was awesome,” Scott Castleberry said. “I’m just proud of the team. We had different people step up at different times and that made this team special.”
“They were just really good,” Center Grove coach Russ Milligan said. “There was no strategy. Those first two kids can fly. What do you do? You throw them out by an eyelash a couple of times, and you go home a winner. If not, we’re probably crying.”
Center Grove 2, Decatur Central 0: In the first morning semifinal, Center Grove scored two unearned runs to eliminate Decatur Central.
Center Grove scored twice in the third. Victoria Boyer reached base on catcher’s interference and Delainey Turner stroked a one-out single to center, racing to second as Boyer beat the outfielder’s throw to third.
With two outs, Baker’s ground ball off the glove of Decatur Central first baseman Karli Ricketts glanced to second baseman Shelbi Miller, but Miller fumbled the ball and both runners scored as the late throw went to first.
“A lot of these games, at this point, will come down to that,” Milligan said. “It comes down to who keeps their cool. Most of the time, in these big games, it comes down to not making crucial mistakes. We got lucky that they made two mistakes in a row.”
Floyd Central 1, Roncalli 0: In the second semifinal, Striegel ‘s sweet stroke sent Floyd Central into uncharted territory. Striegel’s two-out RBI double to right-center in the fifth inning was the difference as the Highlanders edged Roncalli.
Strigel, a sophomore slap hitter who relies on contact and speed to reach base, lined a two-strike pitch from Roncalli ace Jordan Jenkins (15-4) into the gap and chased home courtesy runner Alexis McCullough.
The scoring inning started with King’s lead-off single to left. With one out, Clara Shean got down a sacrifice bunt and set the stage for Striegel.
“Getting the ball in play was my main thought,” Striegel said.
That was all the offense King (15-3) required in the pitching circle. She scattered six hits and escaped two late jams.
Justin Sokeland can be followed on Twitter at @golfguru55.
Decatur Central 000 000 – 0 2 2
Center Grove 002 000 x – 2 7 1
WP – Abbey Pratt (20-2). LP – Breena Smith (15-8). Records – Decatur Central 19-11, Center Grove 27-2.
Roncalli 000 000 0 – 0 6 0
Floyd Central 000 010 x – 1 8 0
WP – Kassie King (15-3). LP – Jordan Jenkins (15-4). 2B – Paige Meyer (FC), Jensen Striegel (FC). Records – Roncalli 26-9, Floyd Central 28-6-1.
Center Grove 220 020 1 – 7 11 1
Floyd Central 201 210 0 – 6 10 2
WP – Taylor Hammill (4-0). LP – Kassie King (15-4). 2B – Victoria Boyer (CG). 3B – Jensen Striegel (FC). HR – Mallory Baker (CG), Mandy Dallas (CG). Records – Center Grove 28-2, Floyd Central 28-7-1.