MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — GPS undoubtedly saved its best for last.
Five times before Friday, the Bruisers had faced rival Baylor this high school softball season, and five times they came up short. But at Starplex No. 3 in the state finals, needing to beat the Lady Red Raiders twice to become state champions, they did -- and in grand fashion.
Pitcher Madi Stanley quieted the potent Baylor offense with a three-hitter in the first game of the final, and her offense helped her out with an 18-hit explosion in the second game as GPS defeated the Lady Raiders 2-0 and 12-7 to claim its first state championship since 2010.
Shortstop, five-year starter and coach's daughter Kelby Crownover said those previous losses to Baylor -- three by one run and one by two runs -- matter less now.
"We felt like we played really well against them about every time," said Crownover, who went 3-for-5 in the final game and hit a two-run double in her last career at-bat. "We felt like it was just a matter of time -- as long as you beat them when it counts.
"It's just unbelievable. I started out with a state championship and now I'm ending with a state championship."
Coach Susan Crownover enjoyed a lengthy, big hug with her daughter right after they went through the handshake line.
"That was pretty sweet," Mom said. "We won it when she was in eighth grade and I was wondering if we were going to get to do that again. It's a great feeling, sending her off with a state championship. It's something she wanted so badly."
Stanley's outing in the first game of the final marked the first time Baylor (37-5) had been shut out all year. She also went the distance in the second game, perhaps tiring late when the Lady Raiders touched her for five hits and four runs in the bottom of the seventh.
"They've just got great hitters. They showed that at the end," Coach Crownover said of the Lady Raiders. "I'm so proud of Madi for showing up this week. She carried this team. Madi put us on her back and carried us."
None of the four seniors for GPS (24-10) has plans to play softball in college.
"I know I'm going to miss it," Stanley said, "but I'm really happy. This is the best way it could've ended."
The other seniors are leadoff batter Bailey Davenport, who reached base twice in the first game of the final and went 3-for-5 and scored twice in the title game, and Stephanie George, who doubled and scored and had a two-run single in the finale.
Coach Crownover said every state-title winning team has to have someone step up who isn't one of the team's big run producers. Junior Haley Richardson fulfilled that role. She went 3-for-3 in the championship game with each hit starting a rally in which the Bruisers scored more than one run.
Eighth-grader Hannah Kincer went 2-for-4 with a home run and three RBIs in the last game.
The loss in the first game of the final snapped a 22-game winning streak for the Lady Raiders. They had won state championships the previous three seasons.
Precious Birdsong, one of Baylor's three seniors and a Middle Tennessee State signee, went 4-for-4 with a double in the final game, had an RBI, scored three runs and stole two bases. Another, Kennesaw State-bound Noelle Winkles, went 3-for-4 with a double, an RBI and a run scored.
Sophomore Crosby Huckabay was 2-for-4 with a three-run homer in the last inning. Sophomore Kayla Hughes was the losing pitcher in both games but had two hits in each.
"We had all those one- and two-run ballgames with them all season, and when you have those kind of games, it's who gets the breaks," Baylor coach Kelli Smith said. "I told our seniors, 'Don't let this define the season you had or the career you had.'
"These seniors are going out with three state championships. Only one team at the end of each season goes home happy. They won't tonight, but they will have good memories of what they accomplished."
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.