MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Little did anyone who was watching the Baylor-GPS softball game Tuesday at Starplex No. 3 know that when the second batter of the game homered, it would be enough to win.
Noelle Winkles' drive over the right-center-field fence proved to be all the offense Baylor would need as the Lady Red Raiders beat GPS 2-1 in an opening-round game in the TSSAA Division II-AA state tournament.
Baylor (36-3) has today off before playing in Thursday's winners-bracket final at about 1 p.m. EDT. GPS (21-10) plays this morning's loser between Pope John Paul II and St. Benedict at about 7 p.m.
The victory improves the Lady Raiders' record this year against the Bruisers to 5-0. One was by four runs, one by two runs, and Tuesday's was the third by one run.
"At times we're outplaying them," GPS coach Susan Crownover said. "I'm proud of the way we played, but it is the same result regardless. Playing well and losing doesn't feel any better."
Winning pitcher Kayla Hughes gave up eight hits, but in only the second inning did she allow more than one. That was the inning in which the Bruisers scored. Taylor Battle reached on a bunt single, stole second, moved to third on Stephanie George's single and scored on Abbey Anderson's groundout.
Hughes, who walked one and struck out one, stranded seven -- six in scoring position.
"We dodged a few bullets," Baylor coach Kelli Smith said. "Kayla got a lot of ground balls, but the defense backed her up."
Adding to the difficulty of the loss for the Bruisers, Baylor leadoff batter Precious Birdsong, who was aboard when Winkles homered, appeared to have struck out on a 3-2 pitch to start the game. However, an illegal pitch was called, resulting in ball four.
Losing pitcher Madi Stanley did not give up another hit after the home run until the sixth. She ended up with a three-hitter with nine strikeouts. She hit one batter and walked two -- one intentionally.
"Madi Stanley has pitched very well against us," Smith said. "She's a veteran, senior pitcher. She threw the ball extremely well tonight. She's probably the best pitcher we've faced all year. As good as our offense can be, I think Madi has thrown the ball well."
Hannah Kincer, George and Battle each went 2-for-3 for GPS. Battle tripled in the sixth, but with two out, and the Bruisers couldn't get her in.
"I think we've outhit them in four of the five games," Crownover said. "We cannot get a big hit with a runner in scoring position."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him 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.