MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — In a 2021 softball season that was anything but ordinary, with COVID-19 protocols and the all-too-clear memory of having lost so much just one year ago, Baylor made it look routine.
The Lady Red Raiders hoisting a state championship trophy has certainly become the customary way to end any TSSAA Spring Fling, and on Thursday night they were dominant while earning a sixth consecutive Division II-AA title.
Baylor run-ruled rival GPS, 10-0 in five innings, to complete a two-day run of winning three state tournament games by a combined margin of 27-1.
"It's something we've talked about all year, getting back out on the field and coming out on top again," said junior pitcher Syd Berzon, who allowed two hits in three innings, striking out six of the 10 batters she faced.
Berzon, who had been limited in the postseason due to a nagging turf toe injury, wore a cleat on her left foot that was a full size larger than the right to accommodate the two padded inserts and extra medical wrapping.
"It's been pretty much constant soreness, but once we started the game I just focused on my pitches and didn't really think about it," added Berzon, who got the scoring started with a sacrifice fly RBI in the first and finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
Facing GPS for a second time in the tournament — and eighth straight time in the title game — Baylor (26-1) jumped out to an early lead with two runs in the first, then pulled away with four more in both the third and fourth and five in the fifth to invoke the state's run rule.
"To get an early lead in any game is crucial, but with Syd throwing the way she did we felt pretty good after a couple of innings," said Baylor coach Kelli Smith, who has been a part of each of the program's 14 state titles — two as a player and 12 as coach. "This never gets old. It's almost addictive. It was tough not getting to have a season last year, but it's great to see the looks on the kids' faces again after this."
Cadashia Collins, Holly Merritt and Katie Raper also had two hits and two RBIs apiece as Baylor outhit GPS 14-1.
Senior Acelynn Sellers, a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga signee, pitched the final 1 2/3 innings without allowing a hit. She also singled and scored on an error by the Bruisers.
"I've never closed out a game like that before in my career, but I'm glad I got to experience it," said Sellers, who in her five-year Baylor career has played catcher, shortstop and first base as well as pitcher and has been the team's most consistent hitter this season.
"We knew we needed to get some early runs for Syd and we wound up putting up 10. This is just a great feeling, and it's so much more memorable after missing out on last year."
The Bruisers (16-14) had advanced into the title game by beating St. Benedict 13-5 earlier in the day in an elimination matchup. Mikayla Beard, Ansley Blevins, Isabella Jenkins, Emma Leinberger and Kennedy Moody all had two RBIs as the Bruisers rallied from being down 5-3 with two runs in the fourth and another in the fifth before blowing the game open with seven in the sixth.