Kelli Smith issued a challenge to her Baylor Lady Red Raider softball team on Tuesday afternoon and they responded in a positive way.
The Lady Raiders had done well in an earlier tournament this season, only to come home and lose three straight games.
Baylor won its own Hits For Hope tournament at Warner Park Saturday night as they won seven games in the process and the veteran coach didn't want a repeat of what happened earlier.
Facing arch-rival GPS at Baylor on Tuesday afternoon, Sarah Moore and Noelle Winkles were the difference as the Lady Raiders improved to 20-5 overall and 3-1 in the Division II-AA Middle-East Region with the 4-0 victory over the Bruisers.
GPS falls to 13-4 overall and 3-1 in region play.
Moore is the only senior on the team and she provided the pitching as she limited the Bruisers to five hits and three walks. She also had nine strikeouts and one other GPS player reached after getting hit with a pitch, but Moore was at her best with runners on base.
The Bruisers left the bases loaded in the first and stranded two runners in each of the second and sixth inning. With her back to the wall and the game on the line, she retired the side every time without a run scoring.
"I feel like it went well, although I wish I hadn't allowed so many walks. We didn't have a set pattern for my pitches, but Cassi (Pickett) and I worked well together," Moore said as she praised the job that her catcher did in making the shutout possible.
While Moore was the significant figure on the mound, Winkles provided the spark on defense first and offense later.
Winkles plays a pretty intense centerfield for the Lady Raiders. She made a great diving catch of a sinking liner in the first inning that led to a Baylor double play and kept GPS out of what could have been a big first at-bat.
Taylor Battle singled up the middle to lead off and went to second when Bailey Davenport received a walk. Abbey Anderson then ripped a 1-2 pitch up the middle, but Winkles was more than ready as she made the diving catch and had the presence of mind to flip the ball back to the infield where Battle was doubled off second.
Baylor didn't get a hit in its half of the first inning, but the Lady Raiders did take a 1-0 lead when Moore coaxed a bases loaded walk from GPS pitcher Madi Stanley. It was the fourth walk of the inning. Even though she allowed no more base on balls, that fourth one was critical.
Neither team scored in the next three innings, but Winkles made it 2-0 when she led off the Baylor fifth with a solo homer to right-center.
Then in the sixth after Stanley had retired the first two Baylor hitters, Precious Birdsong reached on a bunt single before Winkles cracked a 1-0 pitch to dead center for a two-run homer and a 4-0 Red Raider lead.
While Moore pitched around a walk and three GPS hits in the first inning, she dug down deep and prevailed in another tough spot in the sixth.
Katy Richardson and LeeAnn Jackson, who each had two hits on the day, led off the sixth with back to back singles. A sacrifice bunt by Kelby Crownover moved them to second and third, but that's where they remained as Moore struck out Stanley on a swinging third strike before getting Stephanie George on a liner to short.
Then in the seventh with a bit more breathing room following Winkles' second dinger, Moore retired the side in order to end the game.
"We left our bats at home today," said GPS coach Susan Crownover once the game ended.
"It wasn't for a lack of effort, but more from a lack of focus. Sarah did a good job of keeping us off-balance, but a positive turned into a negative real quick when we didn't score in the first inning.
"We just didn't do the small things well. I don't think we could have put more pressure on ourselves as we were just too uptight. We had plenty of chances, but we just couldn't get a run across. A couple of key hits here and there would have made a big difference, but we just didn't get them today," Crownover added.
Winkles was all smiles once the game ended.
"I'm very happy with our win today and shocked that I hit two home runs. I'm normally more of a slap hitter, but I've been working on my approach at the plate and it's working. I was swinging too early and somebody told me to be more patient. That's when I hit the second home run," she explained.
She was even more excited when asked about that first-inning catch.
"I had a late jump, but when the ball landed in my glove, I was just hoping it would stay there. Then I heard someone yelling "two" and that's when I threw it back to the infield. Getting a double play made it even better," she nodded.
Baylor coach Smith certainly felt like that early defensive gem may have been the key for the rest of the game.
"I've always believed that defense wins championships. Noelle made a play almost exactly like that this weekend, but that was a huge double play and that set the tone for the rest of the game. It was definitely a big game for Noelle.
"Sarah has to get in a rhythm. Once she got past those first couple of innings, she did and pitched great after that. This is a really good win for our team. We have an incredible rivalry with GPS and we did what we needed to do to win.
"Our bats weren't as explosive as they have been, but Noelle came through with two big hits. I challenged them after we won seven games this weekend and they responded," Smith concluded with a smile.
Winkles and Moore were the only Baylor players with two hits. Crosby Huckabay had a leadoff double in the second while Lauren Lewis singled in the third and Pickett added a single in the fifth.
Haley Andrus has been swinging the bat as well as anyone in the Baylor lineup in recent games. She was hitless in three trips to the plate, but she hit at least four balls into the trees in left that were all foul.
Baylor is scheduled for a road game at Coffee County on Thursday while GPS will be at home that day to host Grace Academy.
GPS 000 000 0 -- 0 5 1
Baylor 100 012 x -- 4 8 0
Stanley and Hobbs; Moore and Pickett.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)