Kaleigh Clemons just loves playing basketball in front of a packed house. She also prefers having the ball in her hands at crunch time of when her Baylor teammates need a bucket.
The 15-year-old sophomore southpaw was in the right place at the right time more often than not on Saturday night as she helped her Lady Red Raiders win the girls division of the Best of Preps tournament for the second straight year.
Clemons scored 21 points and was named tournament MVP for the second straight year as Baylor defeated arch-rival GPS by a 45-36 final.
In earlier games, Jada Hubbard scored 20 points as the Heritage Lady Generals beat Brainerd by a 56-41 final for third place. Ebony Calloway had 18 points for the Lady Panthers while teammate Jamee Ward was also in double figures with 13.
Aryn Sanders had a memorable day as she scored 32 points to lead Signal Mountain past East Hamilton by a 51-41 margin in the game for fifth place. Lexi Zackery was tops for the Lady Hurricanes with 13 points.
And in the first game of the day to determine seventh place, Lookout Valley got nine points from Annie Marr as the Lady Yellow Jackets were able to hold off Tyner by a 28-25 final. Jai'mesia Parks had seven points for the Lady Rams.
While Clemons was earning MVP honors, she was joined on the All-Tournament team by teammates Skyla Looper and Abby Huber. Other honorees included the GPS trio of Kara Ware, Sydney Shutters and Akia Harris while Brainerd's Ward and Hubbard of Heritage were also picked.
GPS started the fourth quarter against Brainerd in the semifinals on Friday in an 11-point hole. The Bruisers were able to overcome that deficit as they advanced to the finals with the four-point win.
They weren't as fortunate against Baylor.
Clemons scored the first four points of the game on drives down the lane as Baylor bolted to a 14-6 lead after the first quarter. The difference was 21-13 at the break while the Bruisers had gotten to within 32-25 with one quarter remaining.
A free throw by Looper gave Baylor a 36-30 lead with 5:21 to play before Shutters nailed a jumper from the line and Harris scored in the lane as GPS got to within 36-34 with 4:15 left.
The Bruisers had a chance to tie the game or even take the lead for the first time on their next possession, but a blocked shot allowed the Lady Red Raiders to regain possession and the Bruisers never got any closer.
Clemons converted on two more drives down the lane as Baylor extended its lead to 40-34 before Reagan Williams scored on a nice inside move just inside the two-minute mark.
GPS didn't score again as Baylor pulled away in the final 90 seconds by sinking five of seven free throws.
Baylor coach John Gibson has been in this business long enough to know how a bundle of nerves can wreak havoc in a big game, especially when it's against your arch-rival.
"It was a case of nerves on both sides and adrenalin was definitely a factor, but we were able to answer with one more spurt than they did," Gibson said outside the victorious Baylor dressing room.
"We are still having trouble working behind the zone. We have the answers, but we just haven't had time to work on it in practice since we've played 10 games in the past 20 days.
"The good news is that we never quit. And we still found a way to win the game, even when we didn't play our best game," he added.
Clemons was all smiles when the game ended.
"I just love playing in front of a crowd like this, but I'm never satisfied with how I played. Defense wins big games like this and that was the case tonight, but it was total team effort. We knew what we had to do to beat them and we all gave 100 percent," she added.
GPS is now 12-2 following Saturday's loss, but Bruiser coach Jennifer Williams isn't really concerned at this point.
"Our region games are the ones that count, but this was a good learning experience. We got close a couple of times, but were never able to get over the hump as we weren't able to get a good clean shot.
"We played them to a pretty close game and I hope it gives us the confidence that we can win big games like this. We had a bad start, but eventually settled down. But we haven't played a team as quick and fast as Baylor," Williams nodded.
Clemons had 21 points to lead the winning Lady Red Raiders while Huber was also in double figures with 10.
Harris was tops for the Bruisers with 15 while Shutters followed with nine. Kara Ware and Williams both finished with six points.
GPS won the rebound battle by a 29-27 margin with Shutters, Williams and Ware all snagging six. Katie Morgan claimed five.
Huber paced Baylor with nine rebounds while Jaz Simpkins was next with seven.
GPS returns to action on Friday with a road trip to Brentwood Academy while Baylor's next game is Jan. 7 at home against Howard.
January 16 is the next time Baylor and GPS meet and that game will be at GPS.
BAYLOR 14 7 11 13 -- 45
GPS 6 7 12 11 -- 36
BAYLOR (45) -- Clemons 21, Huckabay, Simpkins, Huber 10, Looper 6, Smith, Long 2, Popp 4, McMahan 2.
GPS (36) -- Shutters 9, Morgan, Crownover, Harris 15, Hudson, Williams 6, Ware 6.
3-POINT GOALS: Baylor 3 (Clemons 2, Looper); GPS 2 (Shutters, Harris).
CONSOLATION FOR THIRD PLACE
HERITAGE 15 20 10 11 -- 56
BRAINERD 2 9 16 14 -- 41
HERITAGE (56) -- Nadeja 2, Harvey 5, Ratchford, Smith 4, Belk 4, Hubbard 20, Mullinax 6, Hixon 3, Thomas 6, Taylor 6.
BRAINERD (41) -- Calloway 18, Brown 8, Ward 13, Price, Sparks, McClendon, Ashley, Walker 2.
3-POINT GOALS: Heritage 6 (Hubbard 5, Harvey); Brainerd 4 (Brown 2, Ward 2).
CONSOLATION FOR FIFTH PLACE
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN 13 7 14 17 -- 51
EAST HAMILTON 17 12 5 7 -- 41
SIGNAL MOUNTAIN (51) -- Peterson 2, Sanders 32, M. Whitmire 4, Althaus, B. Whitmire 2, Bledsoe 4, Gravett, McGowan, Boals 7.
EAST HAMILTON (41) -- Petitt 2, Woods 5, Caudle 2, Stovall 4, Howard 5, Wood 1, Zackery 13, Black 6, Giles 3, Zeh.
3-POINT GOALS: Signal Mountain none; East Hamilton 3 (Woods, Howard, Zackery).
CONSOLATION FOR SEVENTH PLACE
TYNER 6 7 3 9 -- 25
LOOKOUT VALLEY 7 9 8 4 -- 28
TYNER (25) -- Bedford, Parks 7, McLemore 3, Conyers 5, Wilkes 4, Christopher 2, Smith, Montgomery, Rodgers 2, Turner 2.
LOOKOUT VALLEY (28) -- Crownover 3, Marr 9, Rogers 2, Mitchell 1, Foster, Evers, Hoge 6, Cabrera, Workman 5.
3-POINT GOALS: Tyner 2 (Parks, McLemore); Lookout Valley 1 (Crownover).
(Email John Hunt at firstname.lastname@example.org)