MURFREESBORO, Tenn. -- The last time Baylor and GPS played softball here at the Starplex, it was about a year ago and the Division II state championship was on the line.
Baylor ended up winning that game by a 6-3 final as they celebrated their second straight state title.
A funny thing happened in softball this year. For the first time ever, these two teams faced off on Wednesday night in the first round of the losers bracket after both had been defeated in opening round games.
Baylor made it three in a row for the season with a harrowing 6-5 victory in a game that took almost two and a half hours to complete.
It was a dandy and the overflowing crowd that gathered at Starplex No. 3 field got their money's worth as these two played their hearts out. It wasn't a perfectly-played game by any stretch, but there won't be another game here this week with any more intensity, drama and rivalry.
Baylor improves to 33-7 with the victory while the Bruisers end another outstanding season at 23-9.
Senior Sarah Moore was the starting pitcher for the Lady Raiders and she earned the victory after allowing five runs on six hits. She was replaced by freshman right-hander Kayla Hughes after issuing her seventh walk to lead off the sixth inning.
Hughes was more than up for the challenge as she earned the save, but it wasn't without a little drama and some outstanding defense.
She bobbled a grounder from Abbey Anderson as Bailey Davenport advanced to second. Katy Richardson's sacrifice bunt advanced them to second and third before LeeAnn Jackson earned a walk to load the bases.
Hughes then got Kelby Crownover on a called strike three before getting a slow grounder from Madi Stanley to short that third baseman Haley Andrus made a great scoop and throw to first for the final out.
Hughes then retired the side in order in the seventh to end the game.
"That was an amazing game. I told Kayla to stay ready because GPS had already faced Sarah twice this year. I really wanted to stay with Sarah as long as I could because she's such a competitor, but she knew after that last walk it was time to make a change," said Baylor coach Kelli Smith afterward.
"We just tried to play our game tonight after trying to forget about the game earlier today. We challenged them to see how they'd react. There was a little more pressure with this being an elimination game, but I'm so glad that we could hold on.
"GPS has a scary team that is full of outstanding hitters. They simply would not give in, but we knew what we were up against. I was really proud of the whole team, but I really liked the way Kayla reacted. She had never pitched against GPS before and to do so in a state tournament was really big," Smith praised.
An RBI-single by Anderson in the first allowed GPS to take a 1-0 lead as Davenport scored after receiving a one-out walk.
Maya Mathis socked a two-run homer with two outs in the second as Baylor took the lead at 2-1.
The difference was 4-1 after Baylor scored two more in the fourth. Moore led off with a walk and eventually scored the third run on a wild pitch while Crosby Huckabay got hit by a pitch following Moore's walk and scored the fourth run on a single by Precious Birdsong.
GPS then knotted the score with three runs in the bottom of the inning.
Anderson drove in the first with a fielder's choice while Jackson got the second one home on a bases-loaded walk. Then Crownover stroked a single to left to score Anderson. Katy Richardson, who had gotten hit by a pitch, tried to score from second on Crownover's hit, but was gunned down at the plate on a perfect throw from Noelle Winkles to Pickett.
Baylor quickly regained the lead with two runs in the fifth. Pickett led off with a single and courtesy runner A.J. Johnson scored on a fielder's choice by Moore. Lewis followed Pickett with another single and eventually scored what turned out to be the winning run on a wild pitch.
A solo homer by Corey Swafford in the fifth accounted for the final run as the Bruisers drew to within one.
GPS coach Susan Crownover knew that it would take a perfect play to get that third out in the fourth and she was right.
"I don't think I've ever won a game here at the state tournament without some would-a, could-a and should-a decisions, but I rolled the dice after we had tied the game at 4-4 and tried to squeeze out another run. I'm so proud as we played with a lot of heart. I'm thrilled as we battled from beginning to end," she said with pride.
"We had a great approach at the plate and we played exceptional defense. We just came up a run short. We really didn't show up in last night's lost to Pope John Paul, but I had some encouraging words for them after that game.
"We lost again today, but our seniors really stepped up. It's been a long time since we weren't playing in the finals and it's been a pretty good run," she concluded, knowing that 2004 was the last time her team wasn't playing for a championship.
Birdsong and Lewis both had two hits for Baylor while Pickett, Huckabay and Mathis had one each.
Swafford had two hits for the Bruisers while Taylor Battle, Anderson, Jackson, Crownover and Stanley all had one.
Moore improved to 14-1 with the win while Stanley's record is now 14-6.
Baylor 020 220 0 -- 6 7 1
GPS 100 310 0 -- 5 6 0
Moore, Hughes (6) and Pickett; Stanley and Richardson.
(email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)