Overcoming a stunning 25-7 defeat in the opening set, the Bearettes bounced back to even the match with a 25-19 win in the second game, but the hosts Columbia Central squad claimed the final two tight sets 25-20, 28-26.
The result closes the Bradley season with a 30-15 record, while the Lady Lions will carry a 29-10-1 mark into their first state tournament since 1983. Columbia, which was without a head coach during the preseason, won the District 8-AAA title before straight-set sweeps of Murfreesboro powerhouses Blackman and Siegel in the Region 4-AAA Tournament.
District 5-AAA and Region 3-AAA champion Ooltewah (35-18) also earned a spot in the TSSAA championships with a five-set victory over Siegel at “The Barn” Thursday. The Lady Owls won by an 11-25, 25-22, 20-25, 25-22, 15-13.
Sullivan South (46-7), Bearden (45-6), Ravenwood (40-9), Brentwood (57-4), Bartlett and Houston round out the state tournament field, which will gather at Siegel High School in Murfreesboro next week.
After Columbia raced out to a 12-1 lead to open Thursday’s match and then finished with a 10-2 run, Bradley Central was held to single-digit scoring for the first time this season.
The Bearettes bounced back in Game 2. After the teams split the first 18 points, Bradley pulled ahead behind the play of Co-District 5-AAA MVPs Kayla Arp and Brooke Copeland to claim a six-point win and even the match.
The Lady Lions led throughout the third set, but were only up 20-18 when they won back the serve and junior Maya Horner served up a pair of winners, plus slammed home a couple of kills to cap a five-point win.
With their season on the line, the Bearettes once again fought back in Game 4. In a nip-and-tuck battle, Columbia edged ahead, but Bradley won four straight points to even the score at 16-all.
The score was tied six more times with Bradley actually serving set-point to force a tie-breaker before the Lady Lions scored three straight with Horner breaking a Bradley serve, then the junior leaper turned two serves by Lexie Duncan into points with kills, the 27th point coming off one of Duncan’s 54 assists. Horner had 24 kills, 15 digs and eight points in the match.
Columbia senior captain Fanise Cannon had 17 points and 25 kills on the night.
Arp had eight serving points with a pair of aces for Bradley, while junior Rebecca Reuter finished with 15 kills.
— Columbia Daily Herald Sports Editor Marion Wilhoite contributed to this story.