MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – There’s nothing quite like having senior leadership in critical situations with the game on the line in the state softball tournament.
Such was the case for the Baylor Lady Red Raiders, who came from ahead to score the winning run with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning to nip GPS by a 4-3 final at McKnight Field No. Three Wednesday afternoon.
With the win, Baylor improves to 41-3 and awaits the winner of Thursday morning’s game between GPS and St. Benedict. GPS had beaten the Lady Eagles 3-2 in Tuesday’s opening game.
But Wednesday’s winners bracket final had the markings of a state championship game as intensity was high, spirit was at a fever pitch and key important plays being made on both sides.
But for the second time in three chances this spring, Baylor prevailed.
Second baseman Abby McNamara, who beat out an infield single in the second inning, led off the Baylor seventh with a sharp single up the middle. Emily Rye sacrificed her to second with a perfect bunt before a fly to deep right from Mikayla Packer before Sophie Piskos ripped a one-one pitch into right center to drive in McNamara with the winning run.
Both McNamara and Rye are seniors.
“That was awesome and unbelievable,” said McNamara after scoring the winning run.
“I just knew I had to get on base and it’s such a relief to know we just have to beat them one time tomorrow,” she added.
Piskos had nothing to show for her first three times at the plate, but the fourth time was a charm. She patiently waited for a slow breaking pitch from GPS senior Hannah Sanders before ripping it to right for the game-winning hit.
“That was a really good game and some fun competition,” the 17-year-old junior said afterward.
“I had struggled all game at the plate. We did a good job of getting Abby around to third and I knew I had to get her home. I had to hold back on that pitch and then drive it away, but that’s what I did,” she explained.
All of the Baylor girls were busy getting ready to head to the track to support Packer, who was a favorite in both the 100 and 200 meter dashes. Baylor coach Kelli Smith is just happy to know her team is sitting in a good position for Thursday’s championship game, which is set to begin at 4 p.m. local time.
“Now we have to be defeated twice, but we can’t take anything for granted as I’ve seen that happen more than once. Sophie Piskos is such a great player and there’s a reason she’s our number three hitter. And I’m so proud of Abby, who made a great play at second before scoring the winning run,” Smith expressed.
“We finally got back within our game play after the fourth inning, but I’m super excited as it was a total team effort today. Syd (Berzon) made some great pitches when she had to and we scored that last run when we had to have it,” she nodded.
GPS coach Susan Crownover wasn’t overly happy with her team’s play on Tuesday when they had almost as many errors (5) as hits (7) in a 3-2 win over St. Benedict. She had promised that her team would play better in its second game and she was exactly right.
“That’s what a state tournament softball game is supposed to look like as it was two really good teams totally battling it out,” said Crownover after her team’s record fell to 27-8.
“We just needed a few more clutch hits, but Hannah Sanders pitched her tail off again. That was much improvement from yesterday’s game, but we’ll just have to keep battling,” the veteran coach concluded.
Baylor had taken a 3-0 lead with single runs in each of the first three innings.
Packer reached with one out in the first when she got hit by a pitch before scoring on a triple to right by Ace Sellers. Macy Ann McKnight’s solo homer with one out in the second made it 2-0 while Brinley Garrison’s sacrifice fly in the third drove in courtesy runner CaDashia Collins.
The Bruisers evened the score in the fourth.
Sanders and Ariana Whatley both singled to lead off the both scored on a double to left by Ansley Blevins. A wild throw back to the infield sailed over the Baylor dugout, allowing Blevins to score and tie the score.
Berzon was the winning pitcher after allowing three runs on six hits. She also had seven strikeouts and one walk.
Sanders was a tough-luck loser after allowing four runs on six hits. She walked two and had no strikeouts. She also hit three Baylor hitters.
GPS left four runners stranded while Baylor had five left on base.
Whatley was the only GPS player with two hits while McKnight and McNamara both had two hits for Baylor.
Baylor has won the last four D-II-AA state titles and seven of the last eight.
There were two outs when Baylor scored the winning run.
GPS 000 300 0 – 3 6 0
BAYLOR 111 000 1 – 4 6 2
Sanders and Blevins; Berzon and Piskos.
(email John Hunt at email@example.com)