Down double digits to Baylor early in the second half Thursday, Cleveland girls' basketball coach Mindy Kiser continued to urge her team to attempt a comeback one possession at a time. As the Lady Blue Raiders listened, with each possession they inched closer.
In the final moments, sophomore Norah Berry inched them ahead for good.
Berry drained a 3-point shot from the right wing with 21 seconds remaining, and Cleveland won 35-34 to advance to the girls' final of the Times Free Press Best of Preps tournament at Arts & Sciences. Kiser's Lady Raiders will face GPS tonight at 7.
The Lady Red Raiders (3-3) seemed to be in control of the game. Amber Howard and Mary Ellen Williams were scoring; Megan Ausdran was controlling the boards. A minute and a half into the third quarter, Howard scored on a putback to make it 27-14 and prompt Kiser to call a timeout.
"She just told us we were better than that," Berry said. "We just needed to stick together and not rush shots.
"We weren't playing like we're used to."
Cleveland started attacking the baskets, either scoring or getting fouled. A 10-2 run in that final 6:27 trimmed the deficit to 29-24 by the end of the third quarter, and a Berry 3 followed by a putback by Sydnie Anderson tied the score at 29.
Anderson gave Cleveland its first lead since 6-4 with a trio of free throws making it 32-29, but Howard drained a 3 from the right wing. The Baylor senior then connected on a pair of free throws with 55.3 seconds remaining, but on Cleveland's next possession, the Lady Blue Raiders worked the ball around to Berry, who nailed the go-ahead shot.
She finished with a team-high 15 points, adding 11 rebounds and two blocks. Howard led Baylor with 17 points, 11 coming in the second half. Williams finished with 11 and Ausdran pounded the glass for 14 rebounds while adding three points. They were the only Lady Red Raiders to score.
"We didn't make any major adjustments," Kiser said. "I just encouraged the girls to be patient on offense and aggressive on defense. We started to chip away and did a much better job of executing as the game went on."