MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — There is a playground that sits in the middle of the softball complex where the Spring Fling state tournaments are held each year, and it serves as a distraction for younger kids while their parents watch older sisters or relatives compete on the surrounding fields.
That playground was home to some lasting memories for Riley and Rory Olesik, who remember playing on the monkey bars and slides with friends while their mom Rachel watched her longtime friend Kelli Smith coach Baylor's softball team.
For two days this week, the sisters created a new and more significant set of memories just a few feet from the playground on the dirt fields, where they helped Baylor extend the TSSAA record for consecutive state championships with an eighth straight after outlasting stubborn Chattanooga Christian School 9-5 Thursday evening to win the Division II-AA title.
"We grew up our whole lives watching the games here, but this year was the first time we've gotten to play together, so to get to do this is just a really special experience," said Riley, who could barely speak above a whisper after losing her voice from yelling and also needed an IV hours before the game due to dehydration.
"Teammates always has your back, but your sister has your back away from the field, too, so having her as a teammate is like a different level of love and trust. There were some big hugs between us as soon as the game ended."
Over the Lady Red Raiders' three state tournament games, Riley went 7-for-11 with 11 RBIs, including 3-for-4 with three RBIs in the title game. Rory, an eighth grader, scored a run in the championship win.
"Their mom and I have been best friends since kindergarten," Smith said. "We played softball together growing up, and our kids are just weeks apart in age and would play together on that playground.
"They've been coming up here year after year to watch us, but now they're on the field together. Every team is different, and seeing those two kids get to experience this week together is one of those things that makes this year so special."
CCS, which was making its fifth straight trip to the state tournament, including a runner-up finish in 2019, fought its way to the title game by beating Tipton-Rosemark 11-8 earlier in the day in an elimination game.
In the finale, after CCS scored a run in the top of the first, the Lady Red Raiders answered in the bottom of the inning with Katie Raper's two-run double.
Baylor (22-6-1) built its lead to 6-1, but the Lady Chargers (23-14-1) — who split their regular-season series with the Lady Red Raiders — rallied for three runs in the fifth, including a two-run single by Lauren McGill with one out. With two runners in scoring position, Smith brought Kaylee Snyder in to pitch, and the junior responded by striking out the next two batters to end the threat.
"CCS had gotten some big hits and changed the momentum, so for Kaylee to come in and be able to have the composure to get two strikeouts was huge," Smith said. "All of our pitchers work really well together and understand that they have each other's backs. We have so much confidence in them, but they also have a lot of confidence in each other."
The Lady Red Raiders added two insurance runs in the sixth on a CCS error and an RBI base hit by Snyder. Baylor sat the CCS batters down in order to end the game.
"We had to keep fighting because they weren't going to give up," said Raper, one of three seniors on Baylor's roster. "This is like one of the best feelings in the world. It never gets old because we work our butts off just to get here."
Baylor beat CCS, Chattanooga rival GPS and Tipton-Rosemark by a combined score of 34-5 this week, and dating to 2017, the Lady Red Raiders have won 16 straight state tournament games, outscoring those opponents by a total of 131-20.
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].