MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Archrivals Baylor and GPS have grown accustomed lately to meeting in the TSSAA Divison II-AA softball state tournament, just not in the losers bracket like Wednesday.
The teams that have met in the last four state finals and five of the last six played in an early elimination game and Baylor's Lady Red Raiders eked out a 6-5 victory at Starplex No. 3.
"This was a strange game for us to be in," said GPS coach Susan Crownover, who has taken 13 Bruisers teams to state finals, including the last six, and won seven titles.
"I'm sure the other two teams are thrilled," she added, referring to St. Benedict and Pope John Paul II, which play in today's winners-bracket final at about 1 p.m. EDT.
"It definitely added a little more pressure," said Baylor coach Kelli Smith, whose team plays the St. Benedict/PJP loser at about 7. "It puts a few more knots in your stomach."
Smith said her players being able to let go of the 5-3 loss to St. Benedict earlier in the day was a big key coming into the game.
"We didn't play badly," she said of the morning game. "We just didn't get the timely hits."
Once the Lady Red Raiders took a one-run lead against GPS (23-9) on a two-run homer by Maya Mathis in the second inning, they never trailed again. However, the Bruisers tied the game at 4 when Kelby Crownover's RBI single capped a three-run fourth.
Sarah Moore's infield single for Baylor in the top of the fifth broke the tie and Lauren Lewis scored the sixth run on a wild pitch.
The Bruisers got back within a run when Corey Swafford homered with two out in the bottom of the inning, and they loaded the bases with one out in the sixth but failed to score. The three-up, three-down bottom of the seventh was the only such half inning in the game.
"They have a great lineup," Smith said. "Everybody wants to talk about our lineup. They have a tough lineup to face.
"Going into the seventh inning with a one-run lead, we were not comfortable."
Crownover held some runners at third who ended up being stranded and also sent one who was thrown out at home. But the Bruisers were limited in how aggressive they could be, not having the lead other 1-0 in the first inning.
"I have never won or lost a game I've coached when I didn't have any woulda, shoulda, couldas," "I'm awfully proud of this team. They played with a lot of a heart.
"Some days you make all the right decisions. Some days you don't."
Precious Birdsong was 2-for-3 with an RBI for Baylor (33-7), and Lewis was 2-for-4.
Swafford ended up 2-for-3 for the Bruisers and Abbey Anderson went 2-for-4, had two RBIs and scored a run.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.