Although they were highly favored, the third-seeded Cleveland Lady Raiders and Bradley Central Bears knew they couldn’t take their District 5-AAA Tournament opening round opponents lightly.
They didn’t. Both took care of business Thursday night at the Raider Dome to earn a spot, not only in Saturday’s district semifinals, but in the Region 3-AAA Tournament at the end of next week.
With a full roster ready for the postseason, the host Lady Raiders took advantage of 41 turnovers by sixth-seeded Ooltewah to run away with a 66-31 victory, while the Bears started and finished strong, which was enough to make up for a mediocre middle in a 61-47 win over a shorthanded McMinn County squad.
“These first games (in the postseason) are do-or-die, so you never know what’s going to happen,” declared veteran Bradley head coach Kent Smith. “We played well at times and not so well at times. We’re just glad to get through it with a win.”
The Bears (15-11) will face second-seeded Cleveland (17-9) in Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. nightcap. The archrivals split their two regular season games, each winning on the other’s home court.
“Cleveland will be highly motivated (since the Bears won by 15 points the last time the teams played),” remarked coach Smith. “We’ll have to play a lot better than we did tonight to beat them.”
In Saturday’s other boys’ semifinal at 6 p.m., top-seeded Ooltewah (16-8) will take on the winner of tonight’s battle between fourth-seeded Walker Valley (15-11) and No. 5 Rhea County (11-15). The Mustangs and Eagles square off in an elimination game at 7:30 this evening.
The Lady Raiders (17-8) will take on McMinn County (18-7), the No. 2 seed, Saturday afternoon at 4:30. “I’m looking forward to playing McMinn,” proclaimed second-year head coach Mindy Kiser. “We split with them during the regular season, so it should be a good game.”
At 3 p.m. tomorrow, the top-seeded Bradley (24-2) girls, who are ranked third in the final Class AAA Associated Press poll this week, will face the winner of tonight’s tangle between fifth-seeded Rhea County (19-8) and No. 4 Walker Valley (14-13) . The Lady Eagles and Lady Mustangs tip off at 6 this evening.
BEARS 61, CHEROKEES 47
Bradley started out on fire Thursday night, hitting all five of its shots from in front of the 19-foot arc, plus half of its six from beyond it in the opening period for a 22-10 advantage.
However, something threw cold water on the Bears’ shooting in the second frame, when they hit just 1-of-8 from close in, but like he had done in the opening eight minutes, senior Bryce Copeland drained a pair of 3-pointers to keep the Tribe at bay for a 30-17 edge at the intermission.
After a delayed re-entry to the gym, the boys from Athens came out strong, trimming the deficit to just four points with a 13-4 run to start the second half.
Bradley junior Baylor Terrell was able to make a 50-foot desperation shot as the third period horn sounded to lift the Bear spirits.
With the lead back to seven, Copeland got hot again, netting the first 10 Bear points in the opening 2:30 of the of the final frame, pushing the advantage back to 14.
Getting help from a trio of NBA-range 3-pointers, McMinn County rallied one last time to pull within half dozen points with 1:29 on the clock, but that was as close as it would come as the Bears netted the final eight points of the night.
“It’s a nice win,” declared Copeland, who finished with 24 points, hitting 9-of-13 shots (69 percent) from the field, plus he dished out a trio of assists and copped a pair of steals. “We played our hearts out. It’s all about survival at this point.”
“What people don’t know is Bryce tweaked his ankle in practice Sunday and other than a little shooting yesterday (Wednesday), he hasn’t practiced since,” related coach Smith. “People don’t realize yet just how much he has meant to our basketball and football programs the last four years.”
Copeland got strong support from classmates Matt Whitmire, who posted a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and Caleb Cain, who netted a half dozen points while clearing five caroms.
Juniors Taylor Bentley and Logan Cox swiped three steals and dished a pair of assists apiece, plus found the bottom of the net for seven and five points respectively for the victors. Terrell also dealt two “dimes” and five markers.
As a team, Bradley was 16-of-29 on two-pointers and 6-of-18 from “distance.” McMinn won the battle of the boards by a 34-20 margin, but turned the ball over 19 times, compared to just seven Bear miscues.
Despite being minus injured top-scorer Quinton Versa, the Tribe shot 46 percent (17-of-37) from the field. Ty Jones and Corey Edgeman netted a dozen points apiece as the Cherokees’ season came to a close.
LADY RAIDERS 66
LADY OWLS 31
Although Cleveland missed more shots (10-8) than Ooltewah in the first 6 1/2 minutes, the hosts were able to pump in nine points before the visitors found the bottom of the net from the field.
The Lady Raiders pushed their advantage to double digits when junior Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad put back in an offensive rebound for the final points of the opening frame.
Cleveland added another four points to its edge by the halftime buzzer, holding Ooltewah to just 3-of-16 shooting and 11 points in the first half.
With all of its pieces back in place, the Lady Raider offense pulled away throughout the second half, sizzling the nylon for 41 points in 16 minutes for the 35-point victory.
“We’ve had everybody back (from injuries and suspensions to four starters) for a couple of games now, which allowed us to use several different lineups,” related coach Kiser. “We gave good effort tonight. We were active on defense and got our hands on the ball (24 steals). Our transition game got us several points and our kids responded well to what we were wanting to do.”
The Lady Raiders shot 40 percent from the field, hitting 24-of-56 “twos” and 4-of-13 “threes.”
Lincoln Memorial signee Sydnie Anderson led the victory with 14 points and a half dozen steals. Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad helped out with 13 points and six rebounds.
Junior Nora Berry finished in double figures with 10 points, plus cleared seven caroms, while MTSU track signee Atarah Abdullah-Muhammad and Jenna Scoggins netted eight points apiece. Scoggins also had four steals.
Leondra Barrett topped the Ooltewah effort with 10 points, plus the 6-foot-2 senior also grabbed 10 rebounds for a double-double. The Lady Owls won the rebounding war by a 37-29 margin.
Ooltewah 3 8 12 8 — 31
Cleveland 13 12 22 19 — 66
LADY OWLS (31) — Leondra Barrett 10, Kaitlyn Kennedy 8, Cross 4, A. Jones 4, Featherstone 2, Cooper 2, G. Hall 1, Taylor, H. Hall, Young, R. Jones, Cain, Dudas, Smith, Baker.
LADY RAIDERS (66) — Sydnie Anderson 14, Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad 13, Nora Berry 10, Jenna Scoggins 8, Atarah Abdullah-Muhammad 8, Hallea McClendon 6, Bre Ware 5, Shawnia Anderson 2, Anna Ginestri, Kellee Geren, Ashley Whittemore, Sarah Crump, Graicyn Walkup, Jordan Capron, T. Phillips.
3-point goals: Ooltewah 0; Cleveland 2 (Berry, Sy. Anderson).
Free throws: Ooltewah 9-of-14; Cleveland 12-of-24.
Records: Ooltewah 5-20; Cleveland 17-8.
McMinn County 10 7 13 17 — 47
Bradley Central 22 8 7 24 — 61
CHEROKEES (47) — Ty Jones 12, Corey Edgeman 12, Hayes 7, Simpson 6, Hammonds 4, Sanders 4, Martin 2, L. Marshall.
BEARS (61) — Bryce Copeland 24, Matt Whitmire 11, Taylor Bentley 7, Caleb Cain 6, Logan Cox 5, Baylor Terrell 5, Daniel Clark, Dee Crisp, Tucker Maroon.
3-point goals: McMinn County 4 (Edgeman 2, Hayes, Simpson); Bradley Central 6 (Copeland 4, Cox, Terrell).
Free throws: McMinn County 7-of-13; Bradley Central 11-of-18.
Records: McMinn County 9-17; Bradley Central 15-11.