May 27—MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Seated in a fabric-covered lawn chair next to the GPS dugout, Susan Crownover did her best to acknowledge the well-wishers stopping by while also keeping a keen eye on the softball game happening in front of her.
The veteran Bruisers coach is not accustomed to watching her team from anywhere other than inside the dugout or from the third base coach’s box, but after taking this season off to recover from cancer treatments, she was content just to be around the action.
At least as content as the ultracompetitive Crownover could be having to watch GPS lose to rival Baylor 12-1 in a Division II-AA winner’s bracket game Wednesday evening.
The Lady Red Raiders — who will play for their sixth consecutive state title at 6:30 p.m. Eastern on Thursday — ended any idea of drama with a six-run first inning, highlighted by a Raven Jones three-run homer.
Baylor (25-1) will face the winner of Thursday’s 12:30 loser’s bracket final between GPS and St. Benedict. The Bruisers already own an 8-6 win over St. Benedict earlier Wednesday.
“I get tired pretty easily, so I knew I wouldn’t have the energy to coach this season, but it’s been good for me to get to watch some games,” said Crownover, who was diagnosed with endometrial cancer last August and just finished chemotherapy treatments in February.
Each of those six treatments would last from six to seven hours, and as a kidney transplant recipient in 2014, she also required three-hour treatments twice a week to be given extra fluid and magnesium.
“It’s been an adventure, I’ll just say that,” Crownover said. “Besides my ordeal, (husband) David had a very bad bout with COVID earlier this year, and his doctor told us it was touch and go for several days as far as whether he would recover.
“We’re both just glad to still be here and getting to enjoy doing things we love. Nobody gets into high school coaching to become rich. You do it because you like to be around kids, and it’s been a great pick-me-up to be back out here. In my head I’m coaching the game, but I try to keep my mouth shut so I’m not like some parents.”
If GPS beats St. Benedict a second time to move into the championship series, it would mark the seventh straight season — and ninth in 10 — the Bruisers and Lady Red Raiders have finished the spring schedule by playing for the state title.
“I have the utmost respect for Susan. We’ve had some great battles through the years,” Baylor coach Kelli Smith said. “I made a comment to her earlier this year that it’s not the same without her being on the other sideline, so it’s been really good just to see her at the games.”
The Lady Red Raiders needed just five innings to move past GPS, outhitting their rival 15-1. Jones finished 2-for-2 with four RBIs, and Syd Berzon pitched the first three innings, not allowing a hit and striking out seven of the nine batters she faced, including all three in the top of the first.
“That sort of set the tone for us, and our kids fed off of it when we came in to hit,” Smith said. “The bats were sort of contagious, and that was really important for what we wanted to do, taking control early.
“When you give Syd one or two runs, she’s pretty tough, but when she has a six-run lead, it’s a different game.”
Riley Olesik drove in two runs for Baylor, Acelynn Sellers was 2-for-4 with an RBI, Addi Yates went 3-for-4 and Berzon added an RBI single.
The Baylor-GPS matchup was set up by wins for each earlier in the eday. The Lady Red Raiders defeated Chattanooga Christian School 5-0 as Acelynn Sellers allowed just one hit and struck out five, Katie Raper had two RBIs and Syd Berzon and Cadashia Collins each had two hits and an RBI.
GPS won its opener 8-6 over St. Benedict, scoring three runs in the first and leading 8-1 before St. Benedict scored five late runs to close the gap. Ansley Blevins, Isabella Jenkins and McKamey Bratcher all had two RBIs for GPS.
CCS was later eliminated by St. Benedict, 4-3.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.