The children’s game of musical chairs is non-contact, supposedly harmless, unless the targeted seat is missed and the youngster lands on his padded one. Even then, nothing but pride gets hurt.
What could possibly happen? Ask Providence softball star Jacque Hornung that question. She will smile and show the surgery scar on her right knee. She might offer an invitation to join her in the dugout as she charts pitches and watches the action from that viewpoint for the next 2-8 months.
The music stopped, and so did Hornung’s season. Her injury, perhaps the first of its kind when it relates to a sport, forced the Pioneers to play another version of musical chairs while looking for ways to fill the void.
The song remains the same for Providence. Despite the loss of the highly-touted shortstop, who batted .485 last season and set a school record with seven home runs, the Class 2-A No. 6 Pioneers are off to a perfect start (5-0), and their objective of winning a third-straight regional title – and more – has never wavered.
“Our goals still remain the same,” Providence coach Sean Payne said. “We just have to have multiple people step up and fill the void. That’s what great teams do. Obviously it’s a setback, losing one of the top players in the state. But we’ve done a great job of making up for the loss.”
The Pioneers had time to regroup following Hornung’s January injury and surgery, with the main issue being the mental approach. Bubbling with confidence after their deep tournament runs, they shrugged off the bad news.
“We’re a pretty tough team,” said senior third baseman Lillian Hughes, who clubbed six home runs last year and was third-team All-State. “We can bounce back. We weren’t too distressed about it. We knew what we had to do. We have good people who can cover what we’ve lost. I have all the confidence in the world we can get to the state this year, no matter what the setbacks.”
The numbers so far are impressive. Sophomore Sydney Milliner is hitting .688 while Hughes is batting .625. Olivia Benningfield, a junior transfer from Presentation, has been a welcomed addition, and freshman Hannah Wolford is 5-0 with a 0.88 ERA in the circle. The Pioneers are averaging 7.2 runs per game while hitting .473 as a unit.
“It’s not been one individual person,” Payne said. “We’re a much better team than we were last year, even without Jacque.”
Providence went 20-12 and lost to eventual state champion South Spencer in the semistate semifinal at Forest Park. The Pioneers went 22-10 in 2013 and fell to Evansville Mater Dei at the same tournament step.
“We’ve been there. We know what it’s like. We know what the competition is like,” said junior Marlee Karem, who is hitting .684 with eight doubles. “So it will be easier for us this year. We have more confidence than we did last year.”
“Each player has just tried to do their job to the best of their abilities,” senior Karly Baumann added. “We make it work. We know people want what we have.”
Providence’s postseason path will not be easy. Sectional rival Henryville is ranked No. 9. The semistate could be loaded with No. 1 South Spencer, No. 4 Scecina and No. 5 Mater Dei. That doesn’t faze the Pioneers, even with a star sitting.
“I think we’ve developed this program where every year, getting to and past the semistate, is the goal,” Payne said. “This year is no different. We have some great competition in our sectional, but we really like our team. We feel like we can compete with anybody.”
Justin Sokeland can be followed on Twitter at @golfguru55.