MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Winning state championships never gets old for Baylor coach Kelli Smith and her Baylor Lady Red Raiders.
Facing arch-rival and neighbor GPS for the umpteenth time in the final game, those outstanding Baylor girls claimed their sixth straight state title and ninth in the past 10 years with a five-inning, 10-0 victory over the Bruisers on Starplex Field No. 3 Thursday evening.
Baylor finishes its season at 26-1 while the Bruisers end their year at 16-14, including four straight losses to Baylor.
The Lady Red Raiders got off to a somewhat slow start with a 5-0 victory over Chattanooga Christian in their first game of the tournament on Wednesday, but their bats came to life in a big way with back-to-back run-rule wins over GPS.
Baylor opened the game with two runs in the opening inning and they sealed the deal with four more in both the third and fourth innings to end their season on another positive note.
“These girls are just so excited to be playing again after missing last year and they showed it tonight,” said Smith, who has been the Baylor coach for the past 19 years.
“Getting the early lead tonight was crucial, but Ace Sellers having the ball in her hand at the end really excited me as Ace has been a great player since starting as an eighth grader. But we had a game plan going in with Syd pitching a while and Ace coming in to finish, but winning state championships are always special.
“It’s almost become addictive to win again and I guess this is the best since it’s the latest. We used to get together after the season, but we starting gathering on the Sunday before we come up here. I’m just so proud of all they did in preparation for this week as these kids are just full of talent.
“Last year, my family and I went to the beach when we should have been here. It was nice, but there’s no comparison. And I can’t tell you how much I love these kids and the love they have for each other. It’s a special group,” Smith added.
Junior Syd Berzon started for Baylor and got the win before being relieved by Sellers with one out in the fourth. Berzon was impressive after allowing two hits and getting six strikeouts and no walks. Sellers was equally as good as she finished off the game with no hits and no runs allowed.
Sellers has had a lot of positive experiences as a Baylor player, but being the final pitcher on Thursday was just another one on the list.
“I was finally able to get the last out, but I can’t begin to describe the feeling I have right now,” she said after the game ended.
“I just wanted to give it my all on every pitch and I still can’t believe this was my last game. It was so much fun to win again,” Sellers expressed.
Baylor ended the game with 13 hits after getting 15 in Wednesday’s 12-1 victory.
Cadashia Collins was joined by teammates Katie Raper, Holly Merritt and Berzon as all had two each. Collins led the team with three runs batted in.
“I’m just so happy as I love them all,” the 17-year-old junior said about her championship game performance.
“I was so excited from the beginning of the game, but we just came together and played great,” Collins added.
GPS coach Martha Hanzelik was really proud of the way her team battled, although one might not believe it with such a lopsided score and in a game where the Bruisers made five errors.
“We battled for all we were worth and did a nice job of putting the bat on the ball. We were so excited in our first win over St. Benedict as we just wanted a chance to play against Baylor again tonight.
"No doubt they have a great team, but this group has played great softball in the last three weeks and I couldn’t be more proud,” she added as she headed toward the GPS dugout after talking with her assistant coaches.
While Baylor finished with 13 hits, GPS got two and both came in the third inning.
Emma Leinberger got the first with a two-out double before Chapel Cunningham singled to right. Berzon then responded with a grounder to third by Maddie Grace Hubbard to end the inning without any runs scoring.
Kennedy Moody reached on a Baylor error in the fourth, but that was the only other GPS baserunner for the game.
Perhaps the worst news of the day for Baylor was an injury sustained by Addie Yates after singling in the third and beating the throw to second. She was taken from the game at that point and the initial call is that she might have a torn ACL, but that's just a preliminary thought,
BAYLOR 204 40 – 10 13 1
GPS 000 00 – 0 2 5
Berzon, Sellers (4) and Sellers, Oleksik (4); Beard, Giffin (3), Jenkins (4) and Blevins.
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)