And with good reason.
The Bearettes were without the steady play of senior wing Caroline Smith who was not dressed out on the bench and was unable to play. The District 5-AAA Player of the Year and Lee University signee averaged 12.3 points per game but suffered a concussion in the Region 3-AAA title game in Crossville Thursday night and was not suited up Saturday night.
The Bearettes (32-2) battled to the final buzzer without Smith and had a final chance to make the state tournament. But, a blocked shot at the buzzer gave Lawrence County the one-point 44-43 win.
“It’s disappointing. We had our moments where I thought we struggled without one of our starters being with us. With that said, I think we had a chance with the four-point lead in overtime. It comes down to one point,” said Jason Reuter, who in his second year as Bearettes’ coach has led the Bradley girls to a 59-8 record.
The Bradley girls knew they had a monumental task in front of them before making reservations in Murfreesboro for the girls state basketball tournament.
Turnovers led to the first two points for both teams and another Bearette turnover led to a Lady Wildcats lead.
Brooke Copeland tied it at 4-4 and Rebecca Reuter put Bradley Central in the lead with 3:43 left in the first quarter. As shots continued to miss the mark, the Lady ’Cats managed to scratch out an 8-7 lead to end the first period.
Poor shot selection continued as quarter No. 2 got under way. Rebecca Reuter put the Bearettes back out front with a layup as the Bearettes struggled to find offensive rhythm. With 2:33 left in the half, Lawrence County took a 15-11 lead on the first 3-pointer of the game. A buzzer beater put the Lady ’Cats out front 17-12 at halftime.
Bradley Central’s 12 points amounted to the lowest first-half points total of the season for the No. 4-ranked Bearettes.
Bradley Central shot only 21 percent from the floor in the first half. The Bearettes finished the night hitting 17-of-45 tries.
The Bearettes opened the second half with two free throws by Copeland to make it 17-14. Although Lawrence County held a 3-point lead early, a calmer, more selective Bearettes team pulled within one point with just over five minutes left in the quarter.
Lee signee Kayla Beavers again brought the Bearettes within a single point, 24-23, with Bradley’s first trey of the night with 3:35 on the clock. Copeland brought the Bearettes’ crowd to its feet with a basket to put Bradley Central out front, 25-24, with 1:03 to go. But, the lead was short lived as Lawrence County worked the final seconds to perfection to score again at the buzzer and slip to a 25-24 lead.
Copeland ended her night with 13 points to lead the Bearettes. Reuter finished with 12 and Beavers scored 11 for Bradley.
Beavers opened the final eight minutes of the back-and-forth affair with her second 3 of the night, giving the Bearettes a two-point lead. The teams battled to a deadlock four times in the final period. Then, with 2:32 left to decide who goes to Murfreesboro, Emily McCracken, wearing No. 20 in honor of Smith, gave Bradley a 36-34 lead.
The Bearettes were unable to convert a Lady Wildcat turnover and gave the ball back to the visitors with 1:37 left in the game. The give-back set up a clock-killing session by the Lady Wildcats who tied the game for the fifth time in the quarter at 36-all with 26 seconds left in regulation.
A costly turnover by Bradley Central put the ball back in the hands of Lawrence County with seven ticks on the scoreboard and the Lady Wildcats called timeout after a Bradley Central foul. The Bearettes countered with a timeout to form their own plan of action. Lawrence County inbounded the ball and drove to the basket, missing the last-second shot to send the game into overtime.
Lawrence County opened OT from the foul line and took a 37-36 lead after making 1-of-2 tosses. It was Beavers once again coming through behind the 3-point line on the Bearettes’ next possession. The trey gave Bradley a 39-37 lead with 3:14 left.
After the Lady Wildcats failed to convert on their next possession, the Bearettes got a bit more breathing room on an easy basket by an unguarded Copeland on the inbounds play. Lawrence County responded with a 3-pointer and, after a Bradley miss and foul, took a 42-41 lead with 53 seconds left in overtime.
With 43 seconds to go, the Bearettes called timeout for some last-second strategy. A whistle with 32 ticks left put the Bearettes on the line with a chance to take the lead yet again. A miss and Lawrence County rebound led to a foul call on Bradley Central. Emily Williams stepped to the line with 26 seconds to go and put the Lady Wildcats ahead 44-41.
With time running out, the Bearettes brought the ball down court. A missed 3-point try led to a Copeland rebound and the sophomore cut the lead to 44-43 with the putback with 5.7 seconds left in the Bearettes’ season. Bradley was forced to foul on the inbounds play sending Lawrence County to the line. Two shots later, the Lady Wildcats held onto the one-point lead after the shots missed. Bradley Central grabbed the rebound and raced down court with the seconds ticking away. A last-ditch attempt by Reuter was blocked at the buzzer, giving Lawrence County the win.
“We shot a little too quick. We had a lead and we shot a 3 we shouldn’t have. They came down and scored. It was like a chess match. It turned into a half-court game. We zoned them and they didn’t want to be zoned,” said a disappointed and exhausted coach Reuter.
“These kids have spilled their guts for me all year long. I think the basketball gods dealt us a pretty tough fate in losing Caroline in the region finals, but I thought when we went up we were going to win the game. I thought that was enough, but we couldn’t pull it out.”
Bradley Central won on the boards outrebounding Lawrence County 31-27. The Lady Wildcats had 14 turnovers to Bradley’s 13.
The loss broke a 27-game winning streak by the Bearettes. Bradley’s only other loss came at the hands of Girls Preparatory School — who won the Division II state championship Saturday — on Nov. 27 by a score of 53-33. Since then, the Bearettes ripped off 27 straight, highlighted with an 82-42 annihilation of Cumberland County to win the region title. Bradley Central carried a five-game streak before the loss to GPS.
Lawrence County heads into the state tournament with a 26-7 record with three losses coming to top-ranked Riverdale, two from ninth-ranked Blackman and one each at the hands of No. 3 Clarksville and North Gwinnett, ranked fourth in Georgia Class AAAAAA.
The Lady Wildcats’ boasted winning streaks of seven, eight and eight consecutive games during the season leading to a 59-31 defeat at the hands of Riverdale in the Region 4-AAA tournament championship game.
The Bearettes largest margin of victory — 68 points — came against Rhea County with a 90-22 win, Jan 10. The Bradley girls’ lowest points total came against GPS. They have averaged just over 64 points per game while holding the opposition to an average of 35 ppg.
“These kids, I’m so proud of them. I’m going to call it a great year. We go down in overtime to Lawrence County without the district MVP in the lineup. I thought our kids played their hearts out for Caroline. They didn’t want this to be their last game,” said coach Reuter.
“It’s tough. You don’t get many chances like this. I can tell you it hurts. It’s a pretty emotional time for us right now. I thank the Lord for letting me come over here and coach these girls. I had just as much fun this yeas as any year I have ever coached, if not more. I love each and every one of them. We just came up one point short. We didn’t lose, we just ran out of time.”
LADY WILDCATS 44, BEARETTES 43 OT
Lawrence County 8 9 9 10 8 — 44
Bradley Central 7 5 13 11 7 — 43
Lawrence County (44) — Keianna Gilbert 20, Emily Williams 10, Clayton 5, Hunt 5, GA. Gilbert 4.
Bradley Central (43) — Brooke Copeland 13, Rebecca Reuter 12, Kayla Beavers 11, Foremont 5, McCracken 2, Withrow.
3-point goals: Lawrence County 1 (Williams); Bradley Central 3 (Beavers 3).
Records: Lawrence County 26-7; Bradley Central 31-2.