What a week it has been for Baylor’s softball team.
First, the Lady Red Raiders knocked off Ooltewah, 5-4, on Monday.
A day later, Baylor clipped District 6-AA regular-season champion Central, 6-4.
Baylor capped the three-game grind on Wednesday when catcher Cassi Pickett smacked a two-run home run off Soddy-Daisy pitching ace Kelsey Nunley to give the Lady Red Raiders a 4-3 victory before a good crowd at Baylor’s field.
The Lady Red Raiders (29-5) backed Kaitie Sims’ six-hitter – she notched all three wins over Ooltewah, Central and Soddy-Daisy – with a nine-hit attack against Nunley, a University of Kentucky signee.
In addition to Pickett’s clutch homer, her second off Nunley this season, Baylor banged out four doubles, including run producers by Pickett and Lauren Lewis.
Pickett went 2-for-3 with three RBIs.
Noelle Winkles, a highly effective batter in the No. 3 slot, went 3-for-3 and scored three times.
“Our lineup is just really good,” Baylor coach Kelli Smith said. “There is not a kid one through nine that we don’t have 100 percent confidence in when they get to the plate. But I was super-proud of Cassi and Noelle.”
Winkles helped placed the win over Soddy-Daisy in perspective, moments after the Lady Red Raiders broke from their postgame meeting with coaches.
“Beating them once in the (Ooltewah) tournament and losing to them in the championship game made this a big game, almost as big as us playing GPS,” she said. “Almost.”
The two local softball powerhouses had previously met three times – all in tournament settings.
Soddy-Daisy (35-4) beat Baylor, 5-4, in the Brentwood tourney and, 2-0, in the championship of Ooltewah’s Choo Choo Classic, after Baylor beat the Lady Trojans, 4-0, earlier that same day.
“We’ve played four times and split with them,” Soddy-Daisy coach Clifford Kirk said. “I’d say they’ve got a good opportunity to win their division (at state) and I hope we can win ours. It’s two pretty good teams.”
Actually, they have been very good for a while.
Baylor has won five Division II-AA state titles. Soddy-Daisy has claimed seven championships.
Wednesday’s game had a state tournament atmosphere, with plenty of fans in the stands and others lined up behind the fences down each foul line, and the outfield.
“Nunley beating us the last time was a big deal,” Winkles said. “Everybody was pumped up to get back at her today”
Winkles got Baylor’s offense revved up right away.
With two out in the first inning, Winkles, who plays center field, singled to left and Pickett followed with her run-scoring double that right-fielder Savannah Moore lost in the sun near the outfield fence.
Baylor’s Haley Andrus, who had two hits, and Lauren Lewis also stroked doubles to right, which was the “sun field” before clouds made life more easy for everyone on the right side.
In the third, Winkles smacked a one-out single to center and stole second. Nunley struck out Pickett, but Lewis’ double gave the Lady Red Raiders a 2-0 advantage.
“There’s a reason Noelle hits in the three-hole,” Smith said. “She’s diverse. She can drop a bunt, slap and hit it over the fence; she led the city in triples last year. We know if the leadoff hitter doesn’t do the job and the two-hole doesn’t come through, Noelle’s like another leadoff hitter and can get things going for the three, four and five hitters.”
Smith knows her team well.
On Wednesday, Sarah Moore and Braleigh Angel, batting one and two, combined to go 1-for-8, with five strikeouts.
But Pickett, Lewis and Andrus were a collective 5-for-8, including three doubles and a homer, with five runs scored and four RBIs.
“Well, they’re a really good team with some of the best hitters I’ve seen in my four years at Soddy-Daisy,” Nunley said. “They got in my head a little bit and I didn’t feel like I was having my best game, but it happens. I had some good times and some sucky times out there.”
Soddy-Daisy’s fourth inning slowed Baylor’s momentum – at least, temporarily.
Savannah Moore doubled to left-center field and Haley Reynolds’ single moved Moore to third. Sims struck out Hannah Smith, but walked Tori Denayer, loading the bases.
Lauren Smith’s sacrifice fly to center scored Moore and Reynolds wound up at third after the throw-in from Winkles rolled past Pickett at home. Reynolds came home on Jessica Bailey’s two-out single to center, tying the game at 2-2.
Nunley struck out the side in Baylor’s half of the fourth and the Lady Trojans couldn’t break the tie in the top of the fifth.
Nunley fanned Moore starting the Lady Red Raiders’ fifth, but Winkles’ smash to the mound bounced off Nunley’s leg for an infield hit.
Pickett, the next batter, worked the count to 1-1.
On Nunley’s next pitch, Pickett launched a two-run laser shot over the left-field fence for what turned out to be the game-winner.
“I went 2-for-3 today,” said Pickett, who homered off Nunley in Baylor’s win over Soddy-Daisy in the Ooltewah tourney. “My second at-bat I wasn’t comfortable at all and she struck me out. She wasn’t going to get me on the third one.”
Nunley (26-3) said Pickett hit a high, inside fastball for the homer.
“She hit the same pitch in the Ooltewah tournament in the same spot,” Nunley said. “When they needed timely hits they got them when they had people on base, which is exactly the time you don’t want them getting hits. On the homer, it just wasn’t inside enough. Clifford said, ‘Well, you can blame it on me.’ I said, ‘I pitched it, you just called it.’ ”
Ironically, Pickett said Nunley threw her a high, inside heater on the pitch before she homered.
Pickett also had a game-winning single in the win over Ooltewah earlier this week.
“Cassi is a phenomenal hitter,” Smith said. “I remember Cassi playing against us in middle school and she hit a home run out on this field against Baylor.”
Who was Pickett playing for?
“GPS,” Smith said, sheepishly.
Soddy-Daisy scored an unearned run in the sixth to close the gap to 4-3, but after issuing a one-out walk to Cassidy Hackney in the seventh, Sims got Olivia Williams on a fly ball to center and struck out Moore to end the game.
Sims (21-4) scattered five singles and a double and struck out four and walked four while receiving excellent defense from her teammates, including Pickett throwing out Boles trying to steal second to end the sixth.
A senior, Sims appeared in all four games against the Lady Trojans, but pitched just two innings against them in the Brentwood tournament because “I was exhausted.”
On Wednesday, she had a good idea of how to pitch to Soddy-Daisy batters.
“We knew the batters, we knew what they liked and didn’t like and knew how to work the count with them,” she said. “I was just excited to get out there.
“I threw all right, but there was a lot I could have fixed. Our defense made up for that.”
Out of necessity, Sims has been shoved into a one-girl starting rotation of late because the No. 2 pitcher, shortstop Moore, has been bothered by a bicep injury.
“She’s pitched a lot for us the last two weeks and I told her it’s in your hands,” Smith said. “She knows I’m not coming out there to pull her.
“This week we’ve beaten Ooltewah, Central and Soddy-Daisy and she really pitched well, and all three games were close. I scheduled these games to prepare us for state-tournament situations. You’ve got to play back-to-back-to-back days against very good competition and you’ve got to be mentally and physically tough for three or four days in a row. This has been good for Katie.”
Soddy-Daisy 000 201 0 – 3 6 0
Baylor 101 020 x – 4 9 1
Nunley and Bailey; Sims and Pickett.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)