The Baylor girls' reign of dominance at the Times Free Press Best of Preps basketball tournament is over.
Meigs County, which had lost to the Lady Red Raiders twice in the event's championship game, rallied from 11 points down in the second half to win 45-39 in the semifinals Friday night at Chattanooga State, snapping Baylor's run of six straight BOP titles.
"I'm so tickled for our kids and our program, especially the way we did it," Lady Tigers coach Jason Powell said. "We had to fight and scratch and claw the whole way to take it from them, but we kept coming. Beating them, and snapping their streak, to get back to the finals makes it even sweeter.
"There was a stretch where we were missing some open shots and I was thinking to myself, 'I guess it's just not our night'. But we never hit the panic button, even when we got so far behind. We just kept fighting and playing hard until we got things to go our way."
Meigs County (13-2) will face Signal Mountain (10-8) in the girls' title game at 7 tonight. The Lady Eagles also had to rally late, coming back from three points down with 1:35 remaining to score the game's final four points and hold off East Hamilton 41-40 in the other semifinal.
Meigs County and Signal Mountain mirror each other with youthful rosters — neither has a senior in its rotation — and in overcoming huge efforts by opposing scorers Friday — Baylor's Raegyn Conley finished with 22 points and East Hamilton's Madison Hayes had 32. In addition, each team is looking to secure its first BOP title.
Baylor (8-6) led by 11 with 2:23 left in the third quarter, but Meigs County pulled to within six by the end of the period, then opened the final quarter with a 3-pointer by McKenzie Crabtree. The Lady Red Raiders extended the lead back to seven midway through the fourth before back-to-back treys from Jaci Powell gave the Lady Tigers their first lead since the opening quarter.
Nursing a one-point lead, Meigs County closed out the game with a 5-0 run in the final minute as part of a 21-9 fourth quarter. Sophomores Powell and Jacelyn Stone led the Lady Tigers with 11 points apiece, with Powell scoring only in the second half.
In the other semifinal, Signal Mountain, which starts four sophomores, used Lamiah Walker's two free throws with 53 seconds remaining to go ahead. Those were Walker's only points of the fourth quarter, but when Dezah Lacey's 3-point attempt for East Hamilton rimmed out just before the buzzer, the Lady Eagles had held on to advance.
"This is as big a win as we've had in a long time," Signal Mountain coach Kendra Bell said. "We've played a tough schedule and needed some validation."
Sophomore post Olivia Koontz led the Lady Eagles with 14 points.
Hayes scored all 20 of East Hamilton's points in the second and third quarters.
"Hayes is a phenomenal player," Bell added. "But when we play really good players, I believe you don't stop them, you just have to make them work and earn every point and that's what we tried to do with her.
"I told the kids to celebrate this one for a little while, but the next challenge is to put back-to-back quality games together."
East Hamilton (10-7) and Baylor will play for third place at 4 p.m. today.
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.