Winning back-to-back championships in any sport is very difficult.
Three-peating is much tougher to do, but that’s what the Bradley Central Bearettes did Monday night at the District 5-AAA Tournament at the Raider Dome.
Continuing a dominating string of 49 straight victories over district opponents, coach Jason Reuter’s squad claimed their third straight 5-AAA crown with a hard-fought 52-43 victory over archrival Cleveland High.
“Cleveland had a good game plan and played a whale of a game, but we showed some savvy and were able to pull it out at the end,” declared coach Reuter. “We got battle tested and showed some moxie.”
Having the district title in hand means the third-ranked Bearettes (25-2) will now host old nemesis Cumberland County (10-21) in a rematch of last year’s Region 3-AAA championship game Friday night in the opening round of the region tournament.
As the 5-AAA runner-up, Cleveland (18-9) will also play at home Friday with White County (19-11) coming to town. White County defeated Cumberland 60-37 in the District 6-AAA third-place game Monday.
In the District 5-AAA consolation battle, McMinn County (19-8) was able to hold off a late charge by Walker Valley (15-15) for a 44-39 victory.
Both teams will open region play on the road with the Lady Cherokees traveling to Coffee County (15-14), while the Lady Mustangs will journey to 6-AAA champ Cookeville (21-10) for an 8 p.m. tipoff Friday.
The Region 3-AAA semifinals and championship will be held back at the Raider Dome on Monday and Wednesday of next week.
LADY RAIDERS 43
After victories of 35 and 13 points over Cleveland during the regular season, Bradley had its hands full with its longtime rivals from the opening tip Monday.
The lead changed hands three times on the game’s first three made baskets before the Bearettes went on a 10-3 run to take their largest lead until the game’s final four minutes.
The Lady Raiders came charging back with an 8-4 run of their own to cut the deficit in half and trailed just 18-14 at the first buzzer thanks to an NBA-range 3-pointer by junior Nora Berry in the final minute.
Berry drilled another long-range bomb to open the Cleveland scoring in the second frame and added a shot from the key at the 4:40 mark to even the score at 22-all.
The teams traded the lead three more times before going into the locker rooms at the intermission back where they started — all even at 28-all.
The third period was just as tight with both teams struggling offensively, hitting just two shots from the field apiece for the only scoring in the first 7:55 of the frame.
Bradley senior Kayla Withrow gave the Bearettes what turned out to be their final lead by hitting a trio of free throws with 4.2 seconds on the clock for a 35-32 edge.
After Bearette junior Rebecca Reuter sank the first basket of the fourth period, Cleveland hit the next two to close the gap to a single point with just over six minutes to go.
Withrow, who was named to both the All-District and All-Tournament teams, then sparked 10-2 run with her second 3-pointer of the night.
District Most Valuable Player Brooke Copeland put the game out of reach by netting eight of her game-high 19 points in the final five minutes as Cleveland never got closer than a half dozen points of the lead down the stretch. She was 9-of-11 from the free-throw line on the night.
“We (the Bearettes) hit just 7-of-15 free throws in the first half, but we finished strong making all but one (11-of-12) in the second half,” commented coach Reuter.
“Cleveland was changing defenses on us on every possession, so it took us a while to adjust, but once we did we were able to take what they were giving us,” he added. “We did a good job of not fouling them after we got the lead late and giving them chances to score without the clock running.”
All-tournament performers Copeland and Rebecca Reuter posted double-doubles, plus the 6-foot-2 junior “Twin Towers” blocked three shots apiece. Copeland cleared the glass for 13 rebounds, while Reuter, who was also voted to the All-District Team for the regular season, snatched 11 to go with her 14 points.
Withrow finished with 12 points and handed out a trio of assists in the victory.
Bradley dominated the backboards by a 33-20 margin but also turned the ball over 13 times to just eight for the hosts.
The Bearettes made 42 percent of their field goals, hitting 13-of-26 in front of the arc and just 3-for-12 from beyond it.
The Lady Raiders struggled from the field, making just 29 percent, but they got off 17 more shots than Bradley. Cleveland was 12-of-39 from the two-point area and only 5-for-16 from distance.
The Lady Raiders were led by a pair of all-tournament performances from Lincoln Memorial signee Sydnie Anderson and junior Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad.
Anderson found the bottom of the net for 16 points and copped four steals, while “Q” helped out with 11 points, eight rebounds and a pair of blocked shots.
Berry added eight points, while freshman Shawnie Anderson netted a half dozen and cleared seven rebounds. Berry and all-tournament selection Atarah Abdullah-Muhammad blocked two shots apiece.
“We played hard and gave ourself a chance to win and that’s all I can ask for,” remarked second-year Cleveland coach Mindy Kiser. “I think we lost our legs midway through the fourth quarter. We didn’t get some stops there when we needed them and got ourselves in a hole.”
LADY CHEROKEES 44
LADY MUSTANGS 39
Walker Valley scored more points in the final eight minutes than it had in the previous 24, cutting a 16-point deficit to just four but ran out of time before finishing the comeback.
A pair of free throws with 13 seconds left in the opening frame gave the Lady Mustangs an 11-10 edge at the first horn, but in between periods it seemed someone put a lid on the Walker Valley basket.
The Lady Mustangs got off a dozen shots in the second period but none of them found the bottom of the net.
The girls from Athens had similar struggles as well, hitting just 2-of-11 attempts of their own, so the difference stood at just six points at the intermission.
Walker Valley’s offense continued to sputter after the break as it hit just 2-of-9 third period shots, while McMinn County heated up, ripping the cords for 16 points.
The Lady Mustangs seemed to turn a switch when the final frame opened.
Freshman Kathleen Alomar began and ended a 14-2 run with steals that she drove coast-to-coast with for fast-break buckets. She also drained a 3-pointer in the spurt which closed the gap to just three points.
McMinn County, which came into the event as the No. 2 seed, responded with an 8-0 run of its own to go back up by double digits with three minutes remaining.
Walker Valley came charging right back with the game’s next seven points, including a steal and 3-pointer from the top of the key by junior Lyndsey Macon with 45 ticks on clock.
The Lady Mustangs got off two more 3-point attempts before the final buzzer but neither hit the mark as the Lady Cherokees added a free throw for the game’s final point.
Alomar led Walker Valley with 11 points, while Macon, who was voted to the all-district team for the regular season, finished with nine.
Peyton Davis added seven points and seven rebounds. Davis and teammate Jaclyn Griffith were named to the all-tournament team.
Wendi Watson cleared the glass for eight caroms, while DJ Mowery snatched five for the Lady Mustangs.
Walker Valley made just 15-of-56 shots (26 percent) from the field, but missed just one out of seven free throws.
McMinn’s numbers weren’t much better, hitting 15-of-50 attempts, but the team made 11-of-16 foul shots which proved to be the difference. Both teams made 12 two-pointers and a trio of treys in the contest.
Cleveland 14 14 4 11 — 43
Bradley Central 18 10 7 17 — 52
LADY RAIDERS (43) — Sydnie Anderson 16, Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad 11, Nora Berry 8, Shawnia Anderson 6, Atarah Abdullah-Muhammad 2, Hallea McClendon, Jenna Scoggins, Bre Ware.
BEARETTES (52) — Brooke Copeland 19, Rebecca Reuter 14, Kayla Withrow 12, Whitney Donaldson 4, Brandi Whitted 3, Baylee Carroll.
3-point goals: Cleveland 5 (Sy. Anderson 3, Berry 2); Bradley 2 (Withrow 2).
Free throws: Cleveland 4-of-12; Bradley 18-of-27.
Records: Cleveland 18-9; Bradley Central 25-2.
Walker Valley 11 0 7 21 — 39
McMinn County 10 7 16 11 — 44
LADY MUSTANGS (39) — Kathleen Alomar 11, Lyndsey Macon 9, Peyton Davis 7, Wendi Watson 4, Jaclyn Griffith 3, Victoria Jones 3, D.J. Mowery 2, Rachel Percy.
LADY CHEROKEES (41) — Madison Dispensa 13, KeKe Smith 11, Haley Ward 7, Alisa Guardiola 7, Rachel Burke 5, Thompson, Simbeck. Kelley.
3-point goals: WV 3 (Davis, Macon, Alomar); McMinn 3 (Smith, Ward, Guardiola).
Free throws: WV 6-of-7; McMinn 11-of-15.
Records: Walker Valley 15-15; McMinn 19-8.
All-District 5-AAA Team
Brooke Copeland (BC), District MVP; Kayla Withrow (BC), Rebecca Reuter (BC); Jenna Scoggins (C), Atarah Abdullah-Muhammad (C), Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad (C); Lyndsey Macon (WV); KeKe Smith (MC), Alisha Guardiola (MC), Haley Ward (MC); Leondra Barrett (O); Amber Levi (RC), Julie Brown (RC).
All-District 5-AAA Tournament
Brooke Copeland (BC), Rebecca Reuter (BC), Kayla Withrow (BC), Atarah Abdullah-Muhammad (C), Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad (C), Sydnie Anderson (C), Peyton Davis (WV), Jaclyn Griffith (WV), Alisha Guardiola (MC), Haley Ward (MC), Ashtin Cooper (O), Julie Brown (RC), Sydney Orr (SD).