MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – The Baylor Lady Red Raiders and the GPS Bruisers have had some classic battles on the softball field in recent years, many times in the championship game of the Division II-Class AA portion of the state tournament.
They met again on Thursday night on Starplex Field No. 3.
Baylor won for the third time this year, but there’s really no way to adequately describe the intensity and the gutsiness that these teams displayed as Baylor prevailed 4-3 in 10 innings.
Thursday was a great day in general for the Baylor athletes as they whipped MUS 12-4 earlier in the day for a state baseball title while the Red Raider soccer team beat arch-rival McCallie by a 3-2 final to win a state title in that sport as well.
There was no game-ending home run or anything like that, but a bases-loaded walk to Macy Ann McKnight that allowed Sophie Piskos to score the game-winning run.
It was an emotional game on both sides to be sure, but especially for the Lady Red Raiders and head coach Kelli Smith.
Thursday’s state title was the 10th for Smith as Baylor's coach and she also won twice as a Baylor player. Smith’s father Don Howard passed away earlier this year and this was the first time in all of those years when he wasn’t present to see his beloved Baylor girls prevail.
But this was one of those high school softball games that nobody deserved to lose. These young ladies on both teams will live to be mothers and grandmothers one day, but chances are good they will never forget about this particular game.
“We never quit and just kept battling,” Smith said wiping tears from her cheeks after her team’s season ended at 34-3 with their fourth straight state title and seventh in the past eight years.
“Macy Ann came through with the big hit to keep us alive, but this win was for my father. Not just because he was my Dad, but because he loved these Baylor girls like they were his granddaughters. It’s been a hard year in many respects, but this makes it all worthwhile,” Smith added.
These two proud programs matched zeroes for the first three innings before Baylor put a run on the board in the fourth.
Emily Rye, who finished the game with three hits, led off the fourth with an infield hit and scored on a long double to left-center by Kamrie Rich, the Baylor catcher who was playing her final game for the Red Raiders.
GPS came back with a run in the fifth when Hannah Sanders led off with a single. Courtesy runner Chapel Cunningham then scored with two outs on an infield hit by Elizabeth Warwick.
The Bruisers took a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh when Ansley Blevins led off with a walk and eventually scored on a Baylor error.
The Lady Raiders answered in the bottom of the inning when Ashton Bazzell led off with a single and later scored on another single by Rye.
The Bruisers went up 3-2 in the ninth when Ariana Whatley led off with a walk and scored on a sacrifice fly by Kaitlyn Songer.
Again, Baylor was able to rally and tie.
McKnight, who had been hitless in three previous times at the plate, ripped a two-out double down the line in left. Courtesy runner Cadashia Collins then scored on another double by Abby McNamara.
Then in the tenth when the international tie breaker comes into play, the Bruisers started the inning with Maddie Grace Hubbard at second. Hubbard was pinch-running for Shelby Walters, who had made the last out in the previous inning.
Hubbard went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Sanders and Blevins walked to put runners on first and third. Relief pitcher Acelynn Sellers, who took over for McKnight with one out in the seventh, then got Whatley on a pop to short before ending the inning on a grounder to short by Brynley Oliver.
Piskos started the 10th for Baylor on second and advanced to third on a grounder to second by Rich.
The Bruisers then intentionally walked both Sellers and Brinley Garrison with one out. Bazzell then flied to center for the second out, setting the stage for McKnight’s bases-loaded walk and the game-winning RBI.
GPS coach Susan Crownover was certainly less than pleased on Wednesday when Baylor prevailed 8-1, but Thursday was a whole different story.
“I hate that it had to end like that, but I was proud of the fight we showed throughout the game. Nobody wanted to lose that game and there are never any moral victories, but I hate to lose a state championship game on a walk.
“We had a lot of opportunities and so did they, but I hate it for Shelby Walters as she pitched a great game and certainly deserved better results than what she got,” Crownover added.
There were lots of tears shed on both sides, those of heartbreak and disappointment for GPS and those of joy and happiness for Baylor.
It was also an emotional game for Rich, who’s been a Baylor starter for the past five years and has been part of this string of four straight state titles.
“It’s an amazing feeling as I’m so proud of my teammates,” she began.
“All we did was fight, fight, fight the entire game. We were all playing for Mr. Howard and that made it special, but we were able to keep coming back and we just never gave up. I did all I could, but I hate for it to end like that for Shelby Walters.
“We’re intense competitors, but we’re also really good friends as we play travel ball together. That’s a hard way to lose. We were shooting for four in a row when I started playing as an eighth grader, but now I’m part of a team that has won four in a row for the first time and that’s really special,” she added.
Baylor finished the game with four runs on eight hits by GPS had three runs on six hits. Both teams made two errors.
Rye had three hits for Baylor while McNamara finished with two. Sanders was the only player from GPS with two.
The Bruisers finish another outstanding season at 32-4 with three of those four losses coming against Baylor.
GPS 000 010 101 0 – 3 6 2
BAYLOR 000 100 101 1 – 4 8 2
Walters and Smith; McKnight, Sellers (7) and Rich.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)