They saved the best for last in the girl’s division of the Best of Preps basketball tournament, which concluded at Chattanooga State Saturday night in front of a standing-room only crowd.
It took an overtime period to decide the outcome, but Baylor’s Lady Red Raiders claimed the championship hardware with a 39-35 victory over Cleveland’s Lady Blue Raiders.
If you wanted to see a lot of offense, this wasn’t the game to watch.
Baylor was able to dictate the pace almost from the opening whistle.
A smothering man-to-man defense didn’t allow the Cleveland shooters to break free like they did in Friday’s semifinal victory over GPS.
It turned into more of a tactical contest, which played right into Baylor’s hands.
Cleveland had several chances to win the game in regulation, but four straight misses at the free throw line in the final 26 seconds couldn’t extend a two-point lead, which set up Baylor freshman Kaleigh Clemons, whose drive down the lane in the closing seconds sent the game into overtime.
Cleveland's Norah Berry and Sydnie Anderson both sank one free throw to start the extra period, but Clemons knotted the score with another drive down the lane with 1:52 to play before the Lady Red Raiders won it at the charity stripe.
Sophomore Selena Popp, who had converted just one of five up to that point, swished a pair with 54 seconds showing to give Baylor a 37-35 advantage.
Then some 27 seconds later, freshman Jazmine Simpkins went to the line and sank a pair of her own to give the girls in red a four-point cushion.
Cleveland then failed to score on its next possession, which gave the ball back to Baylor with 16 seconds left. Nothing happened in that final stretch as Marci Carter, the only senior on the Baylor team, dribbled off the final seconds to secure the win.
“I’m very pleased for these girls and I’m very excited for our team as that was a big win for us,” said Baylor coach John Gibson after his team had evened its record at 7-7.
“We play three freshmen and a sophomore and we haven’t learned how to overcome mistakes, but they all come to practice every day willing to listen and ready to learn. That’s what makes this so special.
“Perhaps the biggest key was that we defended the ball tonight. We played man-to-man almost the whole game and we kept the game at our pace,” Gibson continued.
Cleveland coach Mindy Kiser knew that Baylor would be ready to play, especially after her team beat the Lady Red Raiders in the semifinal round of last year’s Best of Preps tournament.
“Baylor played their guts out the entire game and they just wanted it more than we did,” Kiser began.
“We had every opportunity to win the game in regulation at the free throw line, but we couldn’t convert. We had a two-point lead and could have put the game away, but when it comes down to crunch time, those free throws are extremely important.
“We knew exactly what they were going to do at the end. We knew that number one (Clemons) would take the ball to the rim.
“From start to finish, we were up and down as we were very inconsistent offensively. But give Baylor a lot of credit because they didn’t give us a lot of looks,” Kiser added.
Clemons finished with 17 points to lead both teams and was voted the tournament MVP.
Popp followed with seven points and six rebounds while Simpkins grabbed eight rebounds in addition to those critical two points.
Sydnie Anderson and Shawnia Anderson were Cleveland’s scoring leaders with nine and eight points, respectively. Shawnia also had six rebounds to lead the Blue Raiders in that category.
Baylor finished the game shooting 31.3 percent from the field by hitting 10 of 32 shots. They sank 17 of 26 free throws – including 16 of 21 in the second half – for 65.4 percent.
Cleveland connected on just nine of 44 field goals for 20.5 percent. In Friday’s win against GPS, they were five of eight from 3-point range, but could only convert one of 13 against Baylor.
The Lady Blue Raiders were 16 of 33 from the charity stripe for 48.5 percent.
Baylor 7 3 13 10 6 -- 39
Cleveland 4 9 7 13 2 -- 35
BAYLOR (39) – Clemons 17, Carter, Simpkins 2, Huckabay 3, Popp 7, Kaufman 5, Hubert 4, Birdsong 1, Smith, McMahan.
CLEVELAND (35) – Berry 4, Scoggins 2, Q. Abdullah-Muhammad, Sy. Anderson 9, Sh. Anderson 8, Ware 6, A. Abdullah-Muhammad 6, McClendon.
3-POINT GOALS: Baylor 2-6 (Clemons, Huckabay); Cleveland 1-13 (Sy. Anderson)
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Brooke Mitchell (CSAS); Jamee Ward (Brainerd); Mariah Massengill (Silverdale); Juliette Harp (East Hamilton); Hannah Henry (Chattanooga Christian); Akia Harris (GPS); Sydnie Anderson and Shawnia Anderson (Cleveland); Jazmine Simpkins and Kaleigh Clemons -- MVP (Baylor).
CONSOLATION WINNERS included GPS, East Hamilton and Brainerd.
The GPS Bruisers got back on track with a 59-35 win over Chattanooga Christian in the consolation game for third place.
The Bruisers, who built a 19-4 lead after the first quarter, got 21 points from Brianna Farris and 11 more from Chappel Sharrock. Akia Harris finished with nine points.
The Lady Chargers got a dozen points from Allison Hughes while Hannah Henry scored eight points before leaving the game late with an injury.
East Hamilton took advantage of strong production in the second and third quarters to post a 53-36 victory over Silverdale in the consolation game for fifth place.
Juliette Harp scored 17 points and grabbed 11 rebounds for the Lady Hurricanes, who had a 30-15 advantage in the middle two stanzas.
Jessica Caudle and Kyndall Caudle were next with seven points apiece for East Hamilton while Lexi Zackery was next with six.
Mariah Massengill had 20 points to lead Silverdale while Sloane Woodard and Haley Redmond followed with five and four points, respectively.
Jamee Ward and Anisha Douglas combined for 35 points as the Brainerd Lady Panthers beat CSAS by a 50-42 in the consolation game for seventh place.
Ward finished with 20 while Douglas added 15 for the victorious Lady Panthers.
Keturah Billen had 15 points to lead the Lady Patriots while Brooke Mitchell was next with 14. Resnick Billen finished with nine points.
(Email John Hunt at email@example.com)