By KEVIN HARRIS
FLOYDS KNOBS —
In a matchup of ranked rivals, Class 4A No. 9 Floyd Central brought its “A” game on Friday at Providence High School.
The Highlanders scored seven runs in the first four innings and starting pitcher Caroline Cato threw a three-hit shutout in a 7-0 win over Class 2A No. 6 Providence.
Cato controlled the Pioneer batters by mixing up her pitches, especially her rise ball and curve. The junior right-hander struck out four, walked two and hit one batter to improve her record to 8-2.
“She did really good again today,” Floyd Central coach Scott Castleberry said. “I said [before the game], ‘Caroline, if you’re ready to go, we’re going to throw you and go with you as long as we can.’ When I asked her what pitches she wanted to throw, she said anything.
“We did a good mix of rise balls and curveballs. She pitched tremendously well today and hit her spots.”
Along with Cato’s performance, Providence coach Sean Payne credited the Highlanders’ defense for shutting down the Pioneers. Floyd Central (14-2) committed no errors.
“She’s probably the best pitcher that we’ve seen so far,” Payne said. “But I felt we did make some good contact. Obviously, we didn’t have as many hits as we would like. But their defense made the plays.”
The Highlanders scored three runs in the top of the first inning, giving Cato a fairly comfortable cushion.
Floyd Central freshman Regan Hadley smacked a two-out double off Providence starter Kristan Markland, followed by Taylor Batliner drawing a walk.
Hadley scored the Highlanders’ first run by coming home on a Providence fielding error. Then junior catcher Taylor McClure put Floyd Central up 3-0 with a two-run double down the left-field line.
After going scoreless in the second, the Highlanders plated two runs apiece in the third and fourth.
In the top of the third, Morgan Harper and Hadley led off the frame with back-to-back singles. Batliner knocked in Harper with a groundout to shortstop, followed by Highlander right fielder Katelin Dreher smacking a single to center to drive in Hadley and increase the advantage to 5-0. Hadley ended up going 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI.
Floyd Central got off to another great start in the fourth. Kassie King and Clara Shean each hit consecutive base hits, forcing Payne to relieve Markland with junior Sierra Collett.
With the bases loaded and two out, Batliner blooped an opposite-field single to right to knock in King and Shean to put the Highlanders up seven runs. Batliner finished with three RBIs.
“We tweaked our lineup a little bit. I think we’re starting to find our groove, and our kids are starting to fit into the lineup and do their jobs,” Castleberry said. “All I told them before the game today is let’s just have fun and play softball, and one thing I want you to think about is when you have the most fun playing the game is when you hit the ball.
“They got up there today and they were what I call smart-aggressive. We didn’t really chase bad pitches.”
Payne said the Pioneers (11-6) helped the Highlanders’ offense a lot as they committed all three of their errors in the first four frames.
It was a rough week defensively for Providence. The Pioneers made three miscues in a 3-0 loss to New Albany on Tuesday and five errors in a 4-3 victory over Henryville on Thursday.
“We got them in situations where we could’ve got out of the inning, but we didn’t make a play,” Payne said. “That’s kind of been the tale of the week for us.”
Providence’s best chance to get on the board was in the fifth. With one out, Marlee Karem and Collett had back-to-back singles. After Karly Baumann struck out swinging, Pioneer junior Melinda Cochran drew a Cato walk to load the bases.
But the scoring threat ended when senior second baseman Morgan Boone flew out to center.
Collett did not surrender a run in four relief innings. She gave up four hits and struck out three.
“I think she did very well. She was hitting her spots,” Payne said. “I think both pitchers for us did a pretty darn good job.”
Despite the victory, Castleberry thinks his team still has a lot of room to grow.
“Today was a better effort because the bats were there,” the first-year Floyd Central coach said. “Early run support is where this team should live. We’re a team that should produce six to eight runs a game, and we haven’t been doing that. What we’ve really been working on is when we are at the plate, we’ve been working with what the pitcher is throwing us instead of just trying to hit every pitch, and we’ve done a better job of that.
“With where we’re at and given our record, I feel really good about [the season so far]. I would still say that we are playing about 70 percent of where this team is capable of playing and I think we’re progressing up.”
The Highlanders host a split doubleheader today against Bloomington South and Bloomington North. Providence will entertain Austin on Monday.