No.5 Stars finish 1-1 in high-profile Milligan Classic at Center Grove

GREENWOOD – BNL hurler Annie Waggoner prepares to fire a pitch during Saturday’s clash with No.3 Columbus North. Waggoner struck out 10 as the No.5 Stars stopped the Bull Dogs 5-1 in the first game of the Russ Milligan Classic at Center Grove. Courtesy photo

GREENWOOD – Three of Indiana’s best clashed head-to-head-to-head in the Coach Russ Milligan Classic, and each inflicted damage on the other during the high-profile, round-robin event at Center Grove.

No.2 Center Grove, No.3 Columbus North and No.5 Bedford North Lawrence all went 1-1 during Saturday’s preview of Class 4A semistate contenders. The Stars started with a high-quality 5-1 victory over North, then suffered a heartbreaking loss when Center Grove rallied from a late 6-2 deficit and stunned BNL 7-6 with a walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth inning.

After competing against best-level opponents for 16 innings, and all three have justifiable deep postseason goals and potential, there’s no question BNL has earned its ranking.

“It was three of the best teams in the state,” BNL coach Brad Gilbert said. “The kids are tired. Playing back to back, playing two tough teams like that, is exhausting mentally and physically. We played well all day. We had diving catches, key hits, they just played their hearts out.

“It was really good softball. That’s what we need, games like that. That’s what we have to have, games like that to make us that much better.”

BNL 5, Columbus North 1 – In BNL’s opening game, after giving up an unearned run in the first inning, the Stars tamed North ace Maddi Rutan, scoring twice in the fourth to take the lead.

Ava Ratliff led off that frame with a double to left, Annie Waggoner reached on an infield pop, Braxton McCauley sacrificed both runners into scoring position, and Aliza Jewell delivered a two-run double.

In the fifth, against North reliever Bailee Scruggs, BNL added insurance runs. After walks to Haley Davis and Lauryn Anderson, Ratliff ripped a two-run triple to right and Waggoner followed with a RBI single.

Waggoner won the rematch duel with Rutan, an Eastern Kentucky recruit who was undefeated with a sparkling 0.88 ERA prior to facing the Stars. Waggoner scattered six hits and struck out 10. She was also 3-for-3 at the plate, while Ratliff and Jewell had two hits each.

Rutan, who beat BNL 1-0 with a homer in the ninth inning during last year’s collision, and Kaylee Cowan both had two hits each for the Bull Dogs (10-1-1).

“Our kids had good at-bats against her,” Gilbert said. “Once she has the lead, she usually doesn’t give it up. I’ll put our hitters up against anyone in the state.”

GREENWOOD – BNL’s Aliza Jewell had five hits in the two games against No.3 Columbus North and No.2 Center Grove. Courtesy photo

Center Grove 7, BNL 6 – The Trojans (15-2) trailed 6-2 in the bottom of the seventh, then scored four times against Waggoner to force extra innings before Payton Shimansky tagged Jewell with a two-out home run in the ninth to cap the thrilling comeback.

BNL started in front in the first with singles by Ratliff and Waggoner, and McCauley chased home the run with a ground out. The Stars went up 2-0 in the third as Anna Williams singled, Ratliff was intentionally walked, Waggoner reached on an error, and McCauley grounded out for another RBI.

The Trojans pulled even in the fourth on a two-run single by Brynn Meyer, but BNL took control with a three-run fifth, scoring all the runs with two outs. Waggoner singled, McCauley reached on an infield single and both runners moved up on an error. Jewell followed with an infield single as both runners scored. Kendall Graves laced a RBI single to cap the rally.

BNL added a run in the seventh as Jewell singled and took second on an error, Tori Nikirk beat out an infield single, and Hayley Davis dropped down a bunt as Jewell scored for the 6-2 lead that would be squandered.

In the bottom of the frame, Kynadee Warner cracked a one-out double, Hannah Haberstroh singled, and Meyer cranked a two-run double to left. With two outs, Ashlynn Wolff kept the comeback alive with an infield single, and Shimansky stroked a two-run double to left to forge the 6-6 deadlock.

“We had them, just couldn’t close and get that last out,” Gilbert said. “Annie just kept going, and I thought about Aliza that last inning, but they hadn’t touched Annie too bad. We just couldn’t get the last out. And then the girl hit one (in the ninth) and the wind stopped blowing in.

“It was gutsy performance by Annie (she threw 233 pitches during the two games), I could tell she was getting tired. They hit three balls that were perfectly placed, just timely hits. That’s the way it goes. I was really proud of the effort.”

Jewell was 3-for-5 while Ratliff, Waggoner and Graves had two hits each. Shimansky was 3-for-4 and Meyer drove in four runs for the Trojans.

In the first game of the day, North conquered Center Grove 7-4.

BNL (14-4) will visit county rival Mitchell on Monday, then travel to Columbus for a rematch battle with North on Tuesday.

GREENWOOD – BNL’s Ava Ratliff connects for an extra-base hit during Saturday’s battle with No.3 Columbus North. Courtesy photo