MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Baylor's first shot at redemption from a loss to St. Benedict came Thursday, two days later.
It looked as though things were fresh on the minds of the Lady Red Raiders, who had the lead after their first two batters and went on to a 7-2 victory in the TSSAA Division II-AA state softball losers-bracket final.
Baylor (34-7) will see if it can conjure up another revenge effort today when it takes on Pope John Paul II in the final at 1:30 p.m. EDT. The Lady Raiders must win twice to win their third consecutive state championship.
The Lady Knights hosted and defeated Baylor 4-3 on March 23, which was the Lady Raiders' only loss to an opponent in their classification until they fell 5-3 to St. Benedict in their state-tournament opener Tuesday.
"Obviously just being at the state tournament and playing at this time of the season makes it big," Baylor coach Kelli Smith said. "We've just got to take care of business the first game, and that will give us an opportunity to play for the title."
Her Lady Raiders were so ready to get started batting Thursday that they began the bottom of the first inning with three consecutive hits. Precious Birdsong singled, stole second and scored on Noelle Winkles' single to center field. One out after Cassi Pickett's single, Haley Andrus singled in two to make it 3-0.
"That was definitely pretty big," Andrus said of the quick start. "We didn't want to be in this situation. We didn't expect it, really. They've definitely improved. JPII is playing good. They've beaten some quality teams in this tournament."
Andrus scored Baylor's first run in a three-run third inning from third base, taking advantage of an infielder's hesitation on Crosby Huckabay's grounder and beating her throw to the plate. Maya Mathis added a two-run single.
Lauren Lewis provided the final score with a home run leading off the Lady Raiders' sixth. She was robbed of a homer by Lady Eagles center fielder Bailey Coppedge in the second inning.
"Finally our bats came alive," Smith said. "We hit the ball like we're capable of hitting it. Even a lot of our outs were hard-hit balls."
Winning pitcher Sarah Moore, who allowed five hits and one walk while striking out five, joined Birdsong, Winkles and Andrus with two hits each. Smith said she's going with Moore again today.
"She's our senior," the coach said. "Pretty much the second half of the season we've handed the ball to her. Again it's her character and her will to be a competitor, so she'll get the start."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com.