East to host softball sectional for first time; Jets head to Milan

Columbus East’s Baleigh Fish celebrates with her teammates at home plate after hitting a home run against Hauser April 9 at Columbus East High School.

The Republic file photo

As a reward for its brand-new facility, Columbus East has been given the opportunity to host a softball sectional for the first time in school history.

The Olympians, who began playing on the all-turf field with lights this spring, are hosting a six-team Class 4A field that also includes Columbus North, beginning on Monday.

“I think there probably is a little bit of an advantage to that,” East coach Rusty Brummett said. “Definitely it’s nice not having to travel. We typically have had to travel to East Central or one of the Bloomington schools of Shelbyville for sectional. But even more than that, it’s the familiar surroundings. You know where the locker rooms are. You know where the equipment is. We get to practice on that field every day. We’ll certainly be more relaxed than in years’ past. Some fans who maybe would not have been able to travel hopefully will be able to make it, so that may lead to a larger crowd.”

The Olympians (11-15) will open the tournament against Franklin (12-13) at 6 p.m. Monday. North (12-11) and Shelbyville (15-9) will follow at around 8:15 p.m.

The East-Franklin winner will play Whiteland (11-12) at 6 p.m. Tuesday, followed by the North-Shelbyville winner facing East Central (16-9) at around 8:15. The final will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

Shelbyville is the two-time defending sectional champion, having beaten the Bull Dogs in the final each of the past two years. The Golden Bears are led by pitcher Cheyenne Eads, a University of Indianapolis recruit.

“They have a great pitcher,” North coach TJ Jarvis said. “She’s one of the best in the state. We’re going to have to play at our best, and really, the road isn’t much easier if you get by them. East Central is always tough at the end of the year. It’s a tough road.”

Columbus North’s Kelsey Lovelace takes a swing a pitch against Columbus East April 16 at Southside Elementary.

The Republic file photo

Senior shortstop Kelsey Lovelace leads the Bull Dogs with a .488 average and has three home runs and 17 RBIs. Sophomore center fielder Miley McClellan is batting .432 with 11 RBIs, while sophomore pitcher-third baseman Payton Morris is hitting .386 with four homers and 23 RBIs. Other top hitters are sophomore pitcher Bailee Scruggs (.385), sophomore second baseman Morgan Jarvis (.382), junior outfielder Destinee Allman (.355) and junior outfielder Summer Williams (.329).

“We’re not playing horrible,” Jarvis said. “I wish we were playing a little better. We just started getting everybody healthy back in place and learning how to play with each other with everybody back on the diamond again.”

The Olympians are led by senior pitcher Hermione Robinson, who is 6-9 with a 2.81 ERA, and freshman first baseman-third baseman Baleigh Fish, who is batting .457 with seven home runs and 27 RBIs. Senior center fielder Savanna Sullivan is hitting .356 with five homers and 13 RBIs, freshman second baseman-shortstop Lola Watkins has a .298 average and senior catcher Addy Ross is hitting .260 with 10 RBIs.

“We always talk about at the beginning of the year making sure we’re peaking at sectional time,” Brummett said. “We still have some work to do, but our hitting has been better than it was in the middle of the season. Our pitching has always been solid. We feel like we’re playing as consistently as we have all year, and it puts us in position to make a run, for sure.”

East will be playing a Franklin team that beat the Olympians 3-1 and 8-5 in a doubleheader last month.

“We were in both games,” Brummett said. “We’ve moved some people around, and our defense has shored up a little bit more, so we’re comfortable there. If our hitting continues like it has the last couple games, we’ve put ourselves in a position to be successful for sure.”

Hauser’s Lucie Asher slides into third base against Jennings County March 25 at Hauser High School.

The Republic file photo

Meanwhile, Hauser will be playing in a seven-team Class 2A sectional at Milan. The Jets (18-8), who have made it to the state’s final four in Class A in 2022 and 2A last year, open against Switzerland County (3-18) at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

If Hauser wins, it would play the winner of Tuesday’s second game between Brown County (6-13) and Milan (18-11) at around 7:45 p.m. Wednesday. Brownstown Central (14-11) is the favorite to come out of the other side of the bracket for Thursday’s 6 p.m. final.

“As soon as you overlook somebody, you get knocked out,” Hauser coach Andy Brunner said. “So we’re going to take time to prepare and do our best to execute. I think it’s a pretty good sectional, and there’s definitely some very capable competition to take us out. But I also know what these girls are capable of, and I believe in them. If we can get 21 outs and do our job in the (batter’s) box, everything will be fine.”

The Jets’ chances may hinge on the health of senior pitcher Paige McDaniel, the school’s all-time leader in pitching wins, who sustained a knee injury in Thursday’s regular-season finale against North. McDaniel is 13-6 with a 1.97 ERA and leads the team with a .530 average, four home runs and 36 RBIs.

Other top hitters for Hauser are junior shortstop Izzy Brunner (.494, 25 RBIs), junior first baseman Maley Jordan (.488, 23 RBIs), junior center fielder Lucie Asher (.417, 35 runs scored), freshman outfielder Kaitlyn Robinson (.328, 11 RBIs) and sophomore outfielder Lexie Hamilton (.309, 19 RBIs).

“Some of the girls have peaked and are holding on, and some of them are starting to peak,” Brunner said. “As a team, we are playing very well. We have a couple injuries that we’re nursing right now, and we don’t have a deep bench. So it’s about playing smart more than anything.”