Prep Baseball Report

No. 8 Center Grove Rallies to Beat Whiteland

Rich Torres
PBR Indiana Correspondent

WHITELAND – Grant Herron didn’t try to do too much against rival Whiteland on Monday night, and it was all the Class 4A No. 8 Center Grove Trojans needed.

The junior first baseman finished a perfect 5-for-5 at the plate with five RBI and a pair of doubles, while junior right-hander Alex Christie tossed 3 2/3 innings of flawless relief as Center Grove (8-2) rallied to beat the host Warriors 11-7.

The win pushed the Trojans’ current streak to six straight games, but it required a late charge with Whiteland ahead 7-3 after the bottom of the fourth.

The Warriors (7-6) tied the game 1-1 in the bottom of the first and turned a 3-1 deficit into a 5-3 lead after the third. A two-run home run by Iyan Pelfree in the fourth put Whiteland up by four runs before Christie came in and stymied the Warriors.

“The first half of the game, we weren’t doing anything. We were absolutely brain dead at the plate; our approaches were awful. But the second half of the game, if they made a mistake, whether it was a walk or an error, we took advantage of it,” Center Grove head coach Keith Hatfield said. “I thought our kids had a whole different mentality when we got their starter out of the game.”

Whiteland starter Trevor Spilker went 4 innings with four strikeouts, two walks and two hit batters. His lone blemish early came off the bat of Trojans’ freshman Tyler Cerny, who blasted his first-career home run with one out in the top of the first to put Center Grove ahead 1-0.

Cerny was originally a nine-hole hitter until Hatfield and his staff decided to move the underclass up in the order three games ago. He didn’t start at the beginning of the season, but he finished 3-for-4 with three runs scored and two RBI against Whiteland, including a run-scoring single in the top of the seventh.

“He’s a freshman, and he’s doing pretty big things for us. As of right now, he’s hitting the ball really hard,” Herron said. “When he does that in the first inning, it gives us some energy to start the game.”

Herron added to the momentum in the top of the third with a two-run, one-out double to left-center field that increased Center Grove’s advantage 3-1.

Whiteland, however, chased Trojans’ starter Isaac Barkdull in the bottom of the third en route to a four-run frame led by an RBI single from Alex Reed, an RBI sac-fly by Spilker and two runs scored via a wild pitch and a throwing error.

Barkdull left the game with four strikeouts, five walks and one hit allowed through two innings. He opened the inning with a pair of leadoff walks. Both runners scored as Whiteland jumped out front 5-3.

The deficit grew to 7-3 after Pelfree’s fourth home run on the season. The Carthage College recruit finished 1-for-2 with two walks.

Yet, once Christie took over for reliever Mitchell Evans in the fourth, the Warriors’ offense fell silent.

“There’s been a lot of work in the offseason (with the Indiana Twins), and it really prepares me, keeping my arm strength up. That’s the biggest thing, keeping your arm healthy,” Christie said. “The key is getting ahead in the count, throwing first-pitch strikes, then the at-bat is mine to win.”

Christie retired all 11 batters he faced with a steady mixture of fastballs, curveballs and change-ups.

“That was his first appearance, and it could have been his first appearance as a Center Grove High School player,” Hatfield said. “Tonight, he had some pitches that bounced at 40 feet, but he made adjustments on the fly. He was a very athletic pitcher tonight, and I was proud of him.”

With Christie in control, the Trojans’ bats awoke and rallied for eight unanswered runs in the final three innings.

“I loved the way we battled back. We haven’t had to do that in a while,” Hatfield said. “The top three in our order have been setting the table all year.”

Center Grove’s top-three hitters went a combined 9-for-12 with seven RBI and six runs scored. Bryce Eblin, an Alabama recruit, was 1-for-3 with a walk.

Herron chipped away at the Warriors’ four-run lead with an RBI-double in the top of the fifth that ended Spilker’s outing after three consecutive hits allowed. Spilker was charged with six hits, two walks, two hit batters and four strikeouts.

Herron had three singles overall. His two-run hit from the three-hole in the top of the sixth tied the game 7-7. Herron entered the game with a .500 batting average. He upped it to .571 after Monday night.

“Coach has been preaching energy at the plate with me, I came in here and just wanted to hit the ball all over the field,” Herron said. “As a team, in the past when we’ve gotten down, we’ve kind of folded. We’re used to taking the lead, and this is the first time we’ve shown fight and came back down 7-4 to win.”

Center Grove made it 7-5 in the top of the sixth as a balk by Lukas Cline, who suffered the loss, plated Indiana recruit Brian Gaffney from third base. 

A two-out wild pitch by Brandon Stidham brought home Cerny and pushed the Trojans ahead for good 8-7.

The Trojans tacked on three more runs in the top of the seventh behind a wild pitch and RBI singles from Josh Johnson and Cerny.

Center Grove left nine runners on base, while Whiteland had four. The Warriors loaded the bases four times in the bottom of the first, but Barkdull struck out two and induced a pop up to shortstop to escape the jam.

Christie never went deeper than five pitches against any batter he faced, striking out two without giving up a hit for the win.

“I was just trying to throw strikes and let the defense work,” Christie said. “I’ve been pitching all my life, so I just came in and threw strikes. That’s all I was thinking.”

The Trojans racked up nine walks and had three hit batters. They scored three of their 11 runs on wild pitches and the balk.

“Give them credit, they did what they needed to do to come back. They hit the ball top to bottom,” Whiteland head coach Scott Sherry said. “Their three-hole hitter had five hits tonight. They hit the ball in key situations, and we didn’t. We didn’t throw enough strikes, put too many guys on base, and they took advantage of it.”

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