MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Baylor School and Girls Preparatory School are separated by 3.8 miles in Chattanooga.
Softball teams representing the two private schools drove 112 miles earlier in the week to reach Murfreesboro and the Division II-AA state softball tournament.
On Wednesday evening, the Red Raiders and Bruisers went head-to-head on Field 3 at the Starplex softball complex in a loser’s bracket game for the ages.
Baylor won, 6-5, beating GPS for the third time this season.
The rivalry is always heated.
The action is always furious.
Unfortunately for the Bruisers, the result was the same – another loss to Baylor.
GPS got a first-inning run. Baylor scored twice in the second and fourth innings to take a 4-1 lead.
The Bruisers rallied for three runs in the fourth to tie the game at 4-4.
The Red Raiders scored twice again in the fifth. GPS got a run in the bottom half of the inning.
After starter Sarah Moore, the team’s lone senior who pitched Baylor to a state title two years ago, walked Bailey Davenport to start the sixth, coach Kelli Smith didn’t blink. She just brought in freshman Kayla Hughes to finish things off.
“I was feeling some pressure right there,” Hughes said. “It was a very big game. I’m just glad I got the chance to come in and finish it. I just needed to keep the ball low and have the batters make bad contact because I know the defense is great behind me.”
Hughes – and that air-tight defense she was talking about – added a little more suspense to the situation, though.
Abby Anderson reached on a fielding error by Hughes, putting runners at first and second. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third with one out.
Hughes walked LeeAnn Jackson to load the bases.
Hughes struck out Kelby Crownover, GPS coach Susan Crownover’s daughter.
GPS pitcher Madi Stanley bounced out third-to-first to end the threat and preserve the Lady Raiders’ shaky one-run lead.
“Every time Kayla is in a ballgame great things happen,” Smith said. “She got the save tonight, but I gave her a “team win” for the job she did.”
Hughes probably earned a Houdini medal for escaping that monster mess in the sixth.
“She’s amazing,” said Smith, whose Lady Raiders will play the Pope John Paul II-St. Benedict loser in an elimination game on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. Chattanooga time. “We’ve played a lot of tournament this season and I tried to put her in situations like that.
“Granted, those weren’t state tournament games against our biggest rival, but I had all the confidence in the world in her right there. She’s one of those kids with ice in her veins. She threw a great game in our best-of-three series with Father Ryan to get us here.”
In the seventh, Hughes retired Stephanie George on a bouncer back to the pitcher. She struck out Corey Swafford. With the victory in sight, Hughes fanned Taylor Battle to end the game.
“She did a fine job,” Moore said of her reliever-in-chief. “We always work together like this.”
Said Moore, “I expect nothing different from (Hughes) when she goes into a game.”
Moore went five innings, giving up eight hits and five runs while walking six and striking out four. Hughes pitched two hitless innings, walking one and striking out three.
Moore’s evening effort was in stark contrast to the start she had in the game against St. Benedict. She lasted just one-third inning. She gave up a hit, two runs, walked four and uncorked a wild pitch.
What was the difference in the day’s second game for Moore?
“I threw a lot more strikes,” she said. “I didn’t think about the morning game when we were getting ready to play GPS. After we got off the bus we focused on the next game.”
Despite her poor morning outing, Smith’s confidence in her was not shaken. About 45 minutes prior to the GPS game, Smith told her star right-hander she would get the start.
“I think coach Smith always has confidence in all of us to do our job, so it was more about me having confidence in myself,” Moore said. “Tonight I was just trying not to walk people and get them to hit ground balls.”
Hughes relieved Moore in the early game as well, throwing 5.2 innings and gave up six hits and three runs. She struck out five and walked none.
Why did Smith give the ball to Moore again?
“Sarah is our senior and she’s started since the eighth grade, either at shortstop or pitching,” the coach said. “She’s an absolute competitor. She’s a champion. Any other kid on the mound and I would have a much quicker hook. She walked some people tonight and hit a batter, but it’s because of who she is as a player that I stuck with her.”
With Moore and Hughes handling the mound duties, sophomore Maya Mathis got the offense off and running with a two-run homer in the second inning.
Mathis was psyched after the game.
“It was good timing,” she said. “And it was my first home run this year. I’m glad it got us going and gave us some momentum. It was a fastball straight down the middle and I was looking for it.
“We played a great game tonight. We knew what we had to do and we did it. I’m proud of us.”
GPS’ Stanley, who was masterful in her own right with a complete game eight-hitter, felt the Bruisers played their hearts out only to come up short.
“We lost to them twice during the season and we were pumped for this game,” said Stanley, who walked five and struck out four while giving up all six Baylor runs. “We honestly thought we could win and we fought as hard as we could.
“There’s not much to be terribly upset about. We didn’t play so well (Tuesday) and that was a bad game. We played well tonight.”
And another aspect of the game caused Stanley to avoid the blahs.
“We fought back and tied the game and we haven’t done that all year,” she said. “Our team has really grown together and we’ve come a long way. We felt we had a good chance to win the tournament.”
Instead, the Bruisers finish 23-9.
Baylor (33-7) has a chance to play on.
And that’s "Hughes."
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)