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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Baylor's Britt Barton looks for an open teammate while guarded by GPS's McKamey Bratcher during a Feb. 21 game at GPS.

Baylor could go from zero TSSAA state titles in basketball to two before this weekend is over.

Aside from girls' bowling, basketball is the only sport in which Baylor has not won a TSSAA state championship, though its boys' and girls' programs both have been runners-up twice and each is now just two wins in Nashville from securing an elusive title.

"I told the guys yesterday that they have the chance to do something that has never been done before here," said Baylor boys' coach Mark Price, who has guided the Raiders to the Division II-AA state tournament each of his first two seasons. "Our guys like the challenges and have the propensity to play with an edge.

"We have full intention to be playing for a championship on Saturday."

Both Baylor teams will face reigning state champions in Friday's semifinals at Lipscomb University. Junior guard Raegyn Conley, a Miss Basketball finalist, and the Lady Raiders (25-5), winners of 14 straight games, will tip off against Ensworth (27-0) at 1 p.m. EST.

That will be followed by the boys' semifinal against Briarcrest Christian (24-5), which is led by coveted point guard Kennedy Chandler, who has per-game averages of 22.2 points, 4.3 assists and 2.6 steals this season and has been rated as one of the nation's top 15 players by 247Sports.com.

Both DII-AA finals are Saturday.

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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Baylor's Nick Kurtz (25) is fouled by East Hamilton's Haynes Eller while shooting during a Best of Preps tournament semifinal on Jan. 3 at Chattanooga State.

The Red Raiders (16-9), who are making their third straight appearance in the semis, are led by junior standout Nick Kurtz (18.9 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game, 74% field-goal shooting) who is back from a minor injury. The 6-foot-5 Al Peciulis has provided stellar defense, timely scoring and secure ball handling, and fellow sophomore Eli Sparkman has shot 61-of-146 from 3-point range and leads Baylor in steals.

"Our guys have understood the value of preparation on a daily basis, and they take it seriously," Price said. "Their work ethic is a huge reason why they have been in this spot, along with (retired) Coach (Austin) Clark. We have had the right kind of kids, good enough basketball players and the right work ethic."

Ensworth's girls are ranked 10th in the nation by MaxPreps.com and like to use full-court pressure. Five Lady Tigers average more than 2.3 steals per game, led by Dontavia Waggoner at 3.1. She also averages 16.4 points and 7.6 rebounds.

"Ensworth is good at imposing their will on you," Lady Red Raiders coach John Gibson said. "That's the first battle we will take on. We have to get them to play our type of basketball. Since losing to Signal Mountain in the Best of Preps finals, our girls have learned how to win games in different ways and we have had different girls stepping up nearly every night. They are excited and will be ready."

Conley has averaged 19.5 points and three blocks per game this season, and teammate Cadashia Collins has shot better than 40% from 3-point range. The passing ability of Bella White and Macy Ann McKnight and the defensive skills of Britt Barton and Emma Martin are other assets.

"This group has worked extremely hard and has a lot of playing time under its belt now, even though we have just one senior," Gibson said. "Our kids know they have a chance to do something special if they play well and things go their way.

"We have beaten tough teams and have a good team. Our girls have matured and know what we need to do to put ourselves in the best situation."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @PMacCoon.

 

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