CENTERBURG – When asked to describe his ace pitcher, Savannah Dehart, after Monday’s exhausting bout with Northmor, Centerburg coach Tim Rioux had one word:
It wasn’t so much about her start – she threw 3 ⅓ innings before being pulled, allowing 5 runs, including a bases-loaded walk that plated a runner – as it was her finish.
The sophomore stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning with the game on the line. There were two outs and runners on first and second. The marathon contest was tied at 14.
Most in her position would have crumbled – if not at that moment, then far earlier in the game. Most would have felt sorry, or tuned out, or let the past cloud the present.
But Savannah Dehart isn’t like most her age. She’s a bulldog.
The four-hole hitter knocked a line drive into center field, scoring teammate Mackenzie Davis from second and giving Centerburg a 15-14 lead.
“I’ve had a rough couple games,” a quiet Dehart said afterwards. “So it felt nice to be able to do something for my team.”
Her redemption continued in the seventh, when she returned to the circle to close the game out. Rioux initially brought her back to pitch in the sixth, after two innings in the outfield, and she hung tough despite the circumstances.
She did more of the same in the game’s final inning. With two runners on and no outs, Dehart drew two pop-ups (one turned into a double-play) to seal the win.
“She’s just a hard-working kid, she’s just a hard-nosed kid – and she’s going to compete, man,” Rioux said. “I don’t want to throw any of those clichés out there, but she’s just a tough competitor.”
Dehart embodied the spirit of a team that simply wouldn’t die on Monday night. The Trojans (9-8, 3-7 KMAC) found themselves down 11-4 in the bottom of the fifth inning, but they kept swinging. Eventually, they struck gold.
The run started sacrificially – Zoe Huber was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, sending a runner home. It continued with power, as catcher Aubrey Clippinger launched a ball into center field, then Allie Beekman scored a runner via a hard-hit ground ball.
Davis rocketed a ball to the fence, scoring two runners and drawing the deficit to 11-9. Moments later, one of Centerburg’s most promising newcomers delivered.
Freshman Kaitlyn Tenzos, who leads the KMAC in RBIs (31) by a mile, rocketed a ball into the parking lot behind the center field fence. Grand slam. The Trojans took their first lead of the game, 14-11.
“That was huge for us, you know?” Rioux said. Tenzos is hitting .582 this season, which ranks second in the KMAC. She’s had a blistering freshman campaign, far enough along to rule out beginner’s luck. But to deliver in that way, at that time?
“That was a huge hit,” Rioux reiterated. “For her and for us.”
Centerburg sent 15 batters to the plate in the bottom half of the fifth, recording 10 runs and cracking the game wide open. Even after giving up 5 runs of their own in the top half of the inning, the Trojans remained positive. It’s something the team preaches at practice, Rioux said, and it paid off Monday night.
“We work on, if we have a bad game, letting it go and then building on the next thing,” said Rioux, whose program is made up mostly of freshmen and sophomores. “We work on having a positive attitude. I mean, we stress that a lot. We stress on, if there is a mistake made, to support their teammates, that kind of thing.”
While the mood was jubilant and loud in the Centerburg dugout after the game, the same could not be said for the visitors' side. Monday was a nightmare finish for the Golden Knights (4-12, 2-9), who, like Centerburg, have struggled to find wins in the ruthless KMAC this spring.
The visitors folded defensively late in the game – they committed six errors to Centerburg’s two – and also had control issues on the circle. Northmor walked four batters in the fifth inning alone, two of which preceded the Tenzos grand slam.
“We’ve really gotta cut that down,” Northmor coach Russ Montgomery said of the walks. “But we hit the ball extremely well tonight.”
Five Knights had multi-hit games, including Aly Blunk and Lily Tate, who both went 3-for-4. The Trojans, as resilient as they were, had no answer for the visiting lineup. Rioux said Northmor batters were able to time Dehart’s pitches early on, and inserting McKenna Martindale in the fourth inning only worked for so long.
“They’re a good hitting team, too, don’t get me wrong,” Rioux said of Northmor. “They’re a good hitting team.”
Monday night’s win was an emotional one for Rioux’s squad. Since the coach came to Centerburg three years ago, the Trojans have consistently improved; they won two games in year one, then eight games in year two. The comeback win over Northmor marked a new milestone – nine wins – and there are still seven games left on the regular season schedule.
“They believe more and more they can win,” an emotional Rioux said. “It does a lot for our program, absolutely.”