For a moment it seemed as if last season's state title run had never ended for the Bradley Central Bearettes — even though a new basketball season began with the challenge of facing a locked-in scorer.
Blair jump-started a 12-0 run by picking off a pass for an easy score with 5:44 left to build a 50-45 lead. Last season's AAA state tournament MVP added more momentum by swishing a fadeaway jumper on the right baseline, and she assisted University of Tennessee at Chattanooga signee Anna Walker on a full-court pass as the Bearettes put up six straight points in just 1:04.
"Our kids stuck to the game plan and showed there at the end what they are capable of doing," Bradley Central coach Jason Reuter said. "I think the gas tank finally ran out for them late. But Baylor is going to win a lot of games this year, especially having a player like Raegyn Conley. A big difference tonight, too, was we only turned the ball over twice."
There were other promising signs for Division II-AA's Lady Red Raiders, including a better showing after losing by 29 points to the Bearettes last season. Baylor's roster is healthy overall, too, and freshman point guard Bella White, who started last season, scored 10 points Thursday.
"Bradley Central is a relentless basketball program, and we want to play teams who will give us challenges," Baylor coach John Gibson said. "We were decimated by injuries last year, but I really think we can improve and get better. It's great to see Reagyn back, and she looks like she is getting use to that knee brace."
Conley and Walker put on a shooting clinic as both 6-foot-1 talents could hardly miss, especially early as both reached double figures in the first quarter, when Walker scored 12 of her 21 points.
Bradley Central's signature pressure defense led to a 13-1 advantage in the steals department, and a quick lineup outscored Baylor 32-4 in fast-break points. The Bearettes' Jamia Williams scored seven points in the third quarter and had a game-high five steals, and Cambree Mayo and Anna Muhonen also played stellar defense.
"We have all the tools we need to be successful," Reuter said. "These girls have been working since the first day we got back to school. I do think they are excited playing as the defending state champions. It will be a good test to see where we are next weekend in our Thanksgiving tournament."