Some of Baylor's softball players started a little slow offensively Friday in the Lady Red Raiders' best-of-three TSSAA Division II-AA state-quarterfinal series against Father Ryan. Not Precious Birdsong. But she doesn't do anything slow.
The speedy leadoff batter reached safely six times in eight at-bats in the two games and helped spark the Lady Raiders to 11-1 and 10-0 victories at Baylor.
Baylor (32-6) advances to the state tournament in Murfreesboro in search of its eighth championship. Its opening game is scheduled Wednesday at about 1 p.m. EDT.
Birdsong helped the Lady Raiders create a run in their first at-bat by starting off with a bunt single. She stole second, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Cassi Pickett's groundout.
The score stayed that way until the fourth, when Father Ryan (5-18) tied it on Gina Beckman's single.
"We weren't biting our nails," Birdsong said of the 1-1 scenario. "We were relaxed. We knew we didn't need to be playing back on our heels. We knew we just had to get heads of bats to balls."
And the Lady Raiders struck for three runs in the bottom half of the inning, highlighted by a two-run double by Shelby Ellis. They tacked on six in the fifth, and then Haley Andrus hit a run-scoring single in the sixth to end the game by mercy rule.
"It took us a couple of innings," Baylor coach Kelli Smith said. "We did have a couple of hard shots right to them. There was one they turned into a double play. But after they tied it 1-1, we finally broke it open when we came in."
Birdsong started a three-run rally in the first inning of the second game when she caused a hurried throw to first on a grounder and reached on an error. She had three hits on the day -- all in the infield -- walked once, and twice reached on errors. She stole five bases and scored four runs.
"Precious it seemed like every time I looked up was on deck or on base," Smith said. "She had a field day. As a leadoff we just want her to be on base. She knows it doesn't matter how she gets on base -- hit, walk, error, whatever. She gets on several ways, and that's what makes her such a great player."
Senior Sarah Moore was the winning pitcher in the first game, allowing four hits while striking out eight and working around five walks. Freshman Kayla Hughes was dominant in the second game, limiting the Lady Irish to one infield single and no walks. She had three strikeouts.
"Kayla was fantastic," Smith said. "She knows her role this year as a freshman. I brag about her a lot, but I also bring up the defense when I do. She's getting ground balls when she's effective, and we made the routine plays behind her."
Crosby Huckabay was 5-for-7 for Baylor with a three-run home run in her final at-bat and a double in the first game. Ellis also homered in the second game and hit another double. She totaled five RBIs in the two games.
Andrus was 2-for-3 with a double in the second game and had an RBI to go with her two in the opener. Moore was 2-for-4, drove in a run and scored twice in the second game. Maya Mathis contributed a three-run double in Baylor's big inning in the first game.
The Lady Raiders had one of the most potent offenses in state softball history last season when they won their second consecutive state championship. They're currently battling some injuries and illnesses, but Birdsong doesn't expect those to have much of an effect in Murfreesboro.
"I feel confident with what we've got," she said. "We're going to go there and put on a show."
Meigs in AA state
Meigs County earned its third state-tournament berth and second under 10th-year coach Jeff Davis in a 2-0 Class AA sectional win Friday at Upperman. The tournament in Murfreesboro begins Tuesday.
The Lady Bees' Kristen Hull held Meigs hitless until the fifth inning, which started with a single by Madison Stiner. Davis said the ball skidded past an outfielder on wet grass and Stiner wound up at third. After a strikeout, Allison Hyde's groundout drove her in.
The Lady Tigers scored again in the sixth, beginning with a two-out single by winning pitcher Morgan Boggess. Courtesy runner Megan Lewis moved up on a wild pitch and scored on a single by Chloe Grayson.
Hull threw a three-hitter. Boggess limited the Lady Bees to four hits.
"Morgan threw the ball probably the best she has since she's been here," Davis said of his junior right-hander. "We're still struggling with the bats, but we scratched out a few. Of course it was against good pitching, not chopped liver."
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.