From start to start to start to finish, Baylor's Kaleigh Clemons came up big Saturday and helped the Lady Red Raiders earn the girls' championship in the Times Free Press Best of Preps basketball tournament at Chattanooga State.
Clemons ended up with 17 points and was chosen most valuable player after Baylor's 39-35 overtime victory over Cleveland.
Clemons started the game's scoring when she connected on a 3-point shot from the right corner. Then with her team trailing by three points at halftime, she started the third-quarter scoring with a three-point play on the way to scoring the first seven points after halftime for a 17-13 Baylor lead.
Clemons also started the Lady Red Raiders' scoring in overtime when she drove the lane for a tying layup at the 1:55 mark. But none of her points were more significant than on her drive with two seconds left to finish the scoring in regulation.
The play was set up when Baylor coach John Gibson called time out with 6.9 seconds showing.
"We wanted to set something up," Gibson said. "We were standing around instead of just playing. Kaleigh made a heck of a layup driving the lane.
"She still makes mistakes," Gibson added about his freshman point guard, "but the best thing about her is she listens. She wants to do it. She doesn't frown at me or roll her eyes at me. It's a tough spot to play. I played it. She's got a long way to go, but she did some great things in this tournament."
Selena Popp and Jazmine Simpkins made Clemons' effort a winning one by making two free throws each for Baylor (7-7) in the last 54 seconds of OT for the final margin.
"We had every opportunity to win the ballgame in regulation at the free-throw line," said Cleveland coach Mindy Kiser, whose team had made its last five from the line before going 0-for-4 in the last 26.2 seconds with a 33-31 lead. "Those are the little things that matter."
The outcome also may have been different had Norah Berry made her 3-point attempt in the extra period before Baylor's trips to the free-throw line. The Lady Red Raiders ended up taking possession after a jump-ball call with 16.3 seconds to go and were able to run out the remaining time.
"In overtime we got the look we wanted," Kiser said. "The ball was in Norah's hands and she took a 3. You've seen her make that 100 times. You can't fault the look."
No other Baylor player scored in double figures. Freshman Simpkins led the rebounding with eight.
"We've really lost some struggles," Gibson said of his young team. "We haven't figured out how to overcome mistakes. This tournament I thought we learned how to overcome some mistakes."
Kiser had praise for reserves Bre Ware and Hallea McClendon, noting the lift they provided late in the first half when Cleveland (9-4) scored the last five points and held Baylor scoreless the last 3:39. Guard Sydnie Anderson led Cleveland with nine points before fouling out with 27.3 seconds to go in overtime.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.