Lauren Baker and Haylee Rogers are eying a crown much bigger than the one that eluded them during their prep careers.
The TSSAA softball championship? That is old news.
The duo aims for a national championship now.
Baker and Rogers lead Trevecca Nazarene into the NAIA national tournament, which begins on Thursday in Gulf Shores, Ala.
It is the Trojans' fifth appearance in six years in the field of 32. They have reached the double-elimination, eight-team championship bracket each time but has failed to win a game after that.
The feeling at Trevecca is that this year will be different.
The Trojans are ranked second in the country — the highest in program history — are 46-3 and currently have an 18-game win streak. They went 29-1 in TranSouth Athletic Conference play, won the regular-season title and two weeks ago claimed the tournament championship.
“I think this team has amazing potential and we can do some great things,” Baker said. “We aren’t expecting to come back with anything less than a trophy.”
She and Rogers are well aware, though, of how elusive those things can be.
The pair first started playing with each other more than a decade ago on a team coached by Baker’s father in a recreational league in Goodlettsville. Their competitiveness turned more serious in high school.
Separated by two years, their prep careers overlapped at Beech High in Hendersonville. In 2005, as a freshman, Baker and the Lady Bucs finished third at the state tournament. Three years later, when Baker was a senior and Rogers was a sophomore, Beech took second, the first of three straight state runner-up finishes for Rogers and the Lady Bucs.
“I know we are sick of being runner-up or just this close to winning a championship,” Baker said. “We can win it all. I say that without a doubt in my mind. I’m not so naïve to say that we are going to have some breaks here. Any team that wins a national championship gets the breaks. We just got to come out strong, playing our best game and do what we do best.”
All Baker has been on the mound this season is perfect, in terms of wins and losses. The 5-foot-5 right-hander is 24-0 with a 1.74 ERA and 138 strikeouts in 149 innings. It is the second straight 20-win season for the junior, who was named the conference’s pitcher of the year.
She is one of two Trevecca pitchers to record 20 wins this season. Junior Riley Mashburn, a Brentwood native and Father Ryan product, is 20-3 with a 1.78 ERA, and 103 strikeouts in 145.1 innings.
Both players have recorded at least 20 wins in back-to-back seasons.
Baker also bats fourth in the lineup and serves as the designated hitter or plays in the outfield when not pitching. She has a .356 batting average with eight home runs, 34 RBIs and leads the team with 22 walks.
“She has always been strong. In high school she was strong and she keeps getting better and that is really cool to watch,” Rogers said. “Now that she is here, she keeps getting better. I feel like that is the way with all of our pitchers. They just keep getting better.
"It is weird because you think at the end of the season you should be weakening down, you should get worn out. But, I don’t know, everything is just working.”
That seems to be the case for Rogers, too.
The high school-to-college transition has been a smooth one. The 5-foot-3 outfielder is batting .400, has driven in 48 runs and leads the team and the conference with 15 home runs – all coming primarily out of the sixth spot in the lineup.
Those numbers earned her the conference’s nod as freshman of the year.
“It has been exciting to watch Haylee come up to bat. I think everybody stands up a little bit when they see her come up,” Trevecca coach Ben Tyree said. “She has had a phenomenal year. She is full of excitement. ... She has a lot of pride and it shows. She works hard at it. A lot of good things have happened and a lot of good things will happen.”
But Rogers says her hitting has “improved tremendously” from when she was in high school and was “hacking at the ball.” The eighth or ninth hitter in the lineup while at Beech, Rogers said she is using her hips more in her swing and gives a lot credit to Trevecca assistant Mike Pruitt.
“When I feel like there is a kink in my batting, I go straight to him,” she said.
The fact that Rogers is playing softball at Trevecca is a little bit of a surprise to her. Though she had been contacted by Tyree, she reached a point during her senior season at Beech at which she thought she was done with softball. She had played the sport since she was 5 and for the better part of a decade she competed 10 months a year.
“I got to the point where I was just like, ‘I don’t think this is for me. I think I want a break,’” Rogers said.
But after a district game last year, she realized she couldn’t part ways with the sport. She is glad she didn’t.
“I couldn’t imagine what I would be doing right now if I wasn’t on this team because I can’t imagine my life without any of these girls, let alone being a part of a team where it is not only a team but it is a family,” Rogers said. “It is definitely an experience I am so thankful of.”
Baker, on the other hand, received interest from Division I schools such as Tennessee-Martin and Samford. She said her visit to Trevecca sealed the deal and that the level of competition wasn’t a factor.
“I really fell in love with the team when I came to visit. I loved the girls,” Baker said. “Really, for me, it wasn’t the level of the program as much as it was just was the right fit for me. ... I wanted to play on a successful team that had good team chemistry that I felt would be the best fit for me.”
So here are Baker and Rogers, together again — a dozen years removed from the White Tigers in Goodlettsville. More is on the line this time, and both think this is their chance to finally grab that crown and make history at Trevecca.
“If we don’t let up, I don’t think there is anyone that can stop us,” Rogers said. “That is not me being cocky. That is just confidence. We are all confident in each other and we are all confident that we can be No. 1. We just have to keep working hard for it. You can’t let up.
NAIA Softball Championship
(at Gulf Shores, Ala.)
Thursday: Trevecca vs. Midland (Neb.), 2:30 p.m.
Friday: Trevecca vs. Northwood (Texas), 10 a.m.
Saturday: Trevecca vs. Oregon Tech, 5:30 p.m.
Championship round begins Monday and runs through Wednesday