MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Patience paid off for GPS on Thursday, and now the Bruisers are headed to the finals of the Division II-AA high school softball state tournament.
GPS trailed by two runs more than halfway through the game but took advantage of three walks and scored five runs in the fifth inning on the way to defeating Pope John Paul II 6-3.
GPS (23-10) will play Baylor (37-3) today at 1:30 p.m. EDT in the final. The Bruisers would need to win that one to force a second championship game at 6:30.
The final out Thursday landed in the glove of coach's daughter and senior shortstop Kelby Crownover. She said as the ball was descending she was thinking "finish the play ... then celebrate."
"It's amazing," Crownover said. "I'm so proud of my team. We stayed to the end and now we're in the state championship."
The Bruisers scored first -- Hannah Kincer's sacrifice fly in the first scoring Bailey Davenport, who had doubled, from third.
"We got that one run, and I always like scoring early," coach Susan Crownover said. "But it might've made us too comfortable. Pope John Paul got a couple of big hits. Thankfully we responded."
Down two headed to the fifth, the Bruisers began their winning rally with Taylor Battle drawing a walk. After Stephanie George shot a double just inside third base, Haley Richardson singled to make it 3-3.
Back-to-back walks to Abbey Anderson and Davenport loaded the bases, and Kelby Crownover's sacrifice fly broke the tie. After a popout, Haley Smith's double delivered two more runs.
"It got a little intense," Coach Crownover said of trailing late. "I tried not to get too intense.
"We swung at couple of first pitches and made outs and I thought, 'Maybe I've got them too wound up.' But we managed to relax, be patient and hit pitches we wanted to hit."
The coach acknowledged her substitutes for providing plenty of energy in the dugout throughout the game. She also praised winning pitcher Madi Stanley, who overcame hitting the first two batters she faced and in the fourth inning gave up three hits, hit a batter and threw a wild pitch. But outside of that, the senior right-hander limited the Lady Knights to one hit, and she had nine strikeouts.
"Madi struggled early, but she hung in there," Coach Crownover said. "That was an all-state pitching performance if I've ever seen one. She gutted it out."
Smith and Richardson each ended up 2-for-3 for GPS.
Contact Kelley Smiddie at email@example.com or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.