Moments after surviving yet another scare from rival GPS, the expression on Baylor girls' basketball coach John Gibson was more relief than excitement.
For the fourth time in as many meetings this season, Baylor held off the Bruisers, claiming a 61-57 victory in the first round of the Division II state tournament. But for the third time this season, it didn't come easily. Baylor missed its first six shots from the floor, while GPS started off with a bang, taking a 7-0 lead barely two minutes in.
"Every game we've played against them has started the same," Gibson said. "We've had to dig our way out of a hole every time. Tonight we just weren't making shots at all early, and a lot of that is from just how well they know us and defend us.
"But we finally got the ball inside and then late hit some huge 3-pointers, and that was the difference."
GPS led for all but a 15-second span of the first half before the Lady Red Raiders scored just before halftime to tie the game, then began building what looked to be a commanding lead in the third quarter. But with Baylor leading by 10 with less than two minutes remaining in the third, GPS rallied for a 9-0 run, capped by Akia Harris's steal and layup that cut the deficit to one.
Baylor extended its lead back to 10 with a surge sparked by back-to-back 3-pointers by Crosby Huckabay and Skyla Looper and a steal and layup from Kaleigh Clemons with 5:08 left in the game.
But again the Bruisers chipped away, and when Sydney Shutters hit a 3 with 0:35 to go, Baylor's lead was just two. But Clemons made a pair of free throws to push the lead back to four and Baylor's defense held GPS scoreless in the closing seconds to advance to next Friday's second round. The Lady Red Raiders will travel to Brentwood Academy.
"It's a lot more difficult to beat your rival four times in one year," said Clemons, who finished with a team-high 14 points. "I think the tempo eventually got to them, because it felt like they were rushing some shots at times, and we just kept our poise, especially late."
Shutters scored 16 for the Bruisers, ending their season at 14-11.
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.