MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - For all practical purposes, the Division II-AA softball state tournament has become the Baylor Invitational.
The last remaining unclaimed superlative was attained Friday night as Baylor defeated rival GPS 8-2 to become the first program in TSSAA history to win seven consecutive state championships.
"I'm extremely happy for our program to have that record, but each year is different and right now I'm mostly happy for this year's team for what they accomplished because we had to overcome some obstacles to get this one," said Lady Red Raiders coach Kelli Smith, who has been a part of each of the program's 15 state titles - two as a player and 13 as coach.
Her program has also won 14 straight state tournament games.
While the names on the roster change, the Lady Red Raiders made sure the name on the state championship hardware has remained the same every year since 2014, when GPS interrupted a three-year Baylor run. That 2014 title for the Bruisers is all that has prevented the Lady Red Raiders from owning 11 straight crowns.
Baylor began the day with a 4-3 win over GPS in the winners-bracket final to advance to the title game at the Spring Fling. The Bruisers (23-10) then fought their way back into the championship round of the double-elimination event by outlasting Tipton-Rosemark 5-4 in eight innings.
"I think we were a little tired," said GPS coach Susan Crownover, who had announced earlier this spring she would retire at the end of this season. "Playing three games in a row, all of them with such high emotion, took a lot out of us.
"We had some opportunities to be in the game but just couldn't get the big hit when we needed it. I'm sure I will miss the game, but it's time for someone else to take over. It's been a great ride."
Baylor vs. GPS softball on May 27, 2022
After taking the early lead with a first-inning run, Holly Merritt's two-run single followed by Riley Olesik's RBI hit gave Baylor (32-3) a three-run cushion, then a pair of home runs in the fifth blew the game open as Baylor outscored its three state tournaments opponents a combined 27-5.
"Those first runs definitely took a lot of pressure off of me," Shamblin said. "I have a lot of confidence in our bats that we're going to get some runs, and then it's my job to make the lead stand."
The frightening proposition for the rest of DII-AA is that much of Baylor's offensive damage was done by sophomores as Holly Merritt (3-for-4 with two RBIs, two runs), Riley Olesik (2-for-4, three RBIs) and Addi Yates (2-for-4) all had key hits, while classmate Avery Shamblin pitched 5 2/3 innings, striking out six batters in the win.
In the day's first matchup between GPS and Baylor, sophomore Kaylee Snyder struck out 10 and worked out of three jams with runners in scoring position - including in the seventh - without allowing them to score to preserve a 4-3 win.
"The win in that winners-bracket final earlier in the day is so huge," Smith said. "It allows you to rest your pitchers, and just the confidence of knowing you have to be beaten twice is a big edge.
"That sophomore class has really stepped up. I'm not sure they realize yet how good they can be."