CHATTANOOGA — Walking into the half the Cleveland Lady Raiders found themselves down 21-12 and seemingly outmatched by the Baylor Lady Red Raiders team Thursday.
It looked like a third place contest was in the cards for Cleveland, but head coach Mindy Kiser took the girls into the half and stated the importance of every possession.
The result was a Cleveland girls squad who took the floor in the second half looking energized and playing smarter basketball, ultimately walking off the court with a harrowing 35-34 victory and a spot in tonight’s championship game at the Best of Preps Christmas Tournament.
Cleveland (7-6) will square off against reigning TSSAA Division II champion Girls Preparatory School (12-1) to the title at 7 this evening at CSAS’s historic Steele Gymnasium.
“When you walk out of the locker room here, the word ‘Execute’ is on the floor. That’s been a lot of what we have talked about the last three or four games, that our execution needs to be better,” Kiser stated.
Cleveland didn’t get off to a bad start, matching their Baylor counterparts almost shot for shot through the first quarter, but some slight Blue Raider miscues were apparent early and kept the ladies from establishing any kind of rhythm.
Then the wheels fell off. The Lady Raiders seemed at a complete loss in the second quarter. Shots became forced and rushed and Baylor dominance on the boards resulted in numerous second-chance Red Raider points and costly Cleveland misses.
In fact, the Lady Blue Raiders didn’t find the bucket until under a minute left to play in the half and only scored that one basket the entire second quarter.
It looked over early as the teams headed to the locker room. The Cleveland team that played the second quarter had no chance of coming back and winning this game.
Luckily, a transformation happened in the locker room and under the direction of Kiser’s ‘every possession’ gameplan, the Lady Raiders took the floor looking and playing like a completely different team.
“We just spent the half taking about chipping away at the lead one possession at a time, and being patient on offense and making sure we were smart and aggressive on defense,” Kiser said.
The third quarter saw Cleveland storm onto the court playing its style of basketball, getting quality looks and utilizing both perimeter shooting and inside penetration.
Cleveland matched its first half scoring in the third quarter alone, and found itself just five back heading into the last period.
It was the defense and some key shooting that turned the tide of the game in the second half.
Now it was Baylor who was fighting to find baskets and rebounds and a Cleveland offense that continued to press the attack.
The charity line gave Cleveland its first lead since going up 6-4 early in the first quarter.
Sydnie Anderson stepped up to the free-throw line and notched a pair, giving Cleveland a 32-29 lead.
From there on out it was a horse race to the finish.
Baylor came back by notching some key shots, pulling ahead with seconds left on the clock.
The ensuing Cleveland possession found sophomore Norizah Berry standing behind the 3-point line with time and an open shot.
She took it and with seconds left on the clock the 3 ball banged in, giving Cleveland a 35-34 lead and brining the packed auditorium to its feet.
The Lady Red Raiders had one last chance to steal a win. With a second and a half Baylor had an inbounds pass and one last shot attempt.
With the entire crowd on its feet the Red Raiders completed the inbounds and launched an off balance shot that bounced off the rim and secured Cleveland’s spot in the finals against a tough GPS team.
Berry led the Lady Raiders with 14 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.
Cleveland 10 2 12 11 — 35
Baylor 12 9 8 5 — 34
Lady Raiders (35) — Norah Berry 15, Ware, Scoggins, A. Abdullah-Muhammad 4, Q. Abdullah-Muhammad 7, Anderson 7, Capron 2.
Lady Red Raiders (34) — Amber Howard 17, Mary Ellen Williams 11, Carter, Prater, Ausdran 6, Kaufman, Popp.
3-point Goals: Cleveland 4 (Berry 4); Baylor 3 (Williams 2, Howard).
Free Throws: Cleveland 5-of-11; Baylor 9-of-12.
Records: Cleveland 7-6; Baylor 4-4.