SODDY-DAISY — It wasn't their tightest battle in the last nine District 5-AAA championship games, but it was a close second as Bradley Central continued its impressive dominance of the local girls' …
SODDY-DAISY — It wasn't their tightest battle in the last nine District 5-AAA championship games, but it was a close second as Bradley Central continued its impressive dominance of the local girls' hoops league.
The fourth-ranked Bearettes held off a determined East Hamilton storm to capture their ninth straight district crown with a hard-fought 52-45 victory in the title game Monday evening in Soddy-Daisy.
"This wasn't easy. I warned the girls that even though we were up eight at the half, it was going to come down to the nitty gritty," related head coach Jason Reuter, who is now 122-4 against district opponents, including 68 in a row, in his nine years at the Bradley helm.
The only championship game that was closer came in 2016, when it took a NBA-range 3-pointer at the final buzzer by current SEC standout Rhyne Howard, then a sophomore, to lift the Bearettes over McMinn County 50-47 for the sixth of their nine straight district titles.
Notching its 63rd overall district crown not only sends Bradley to its 35th straight region tournament and 61st of the last 62, but also secures the Bearettes home-court advantage as the 3-AAA event will be held at Jim Smiddy Arena.
Bradley will open the region action against an old nemesis as White County (22-8) comes to town for Friday evening's opener at 7.
"All those teams (in District 6-AAA) are tough. White County was ranked for most of the season. They, Stone Memorial and Cookeville (the 6-AAA champs and runners-up) all split with each other during the regular season," commented Reuter, whose Bearettes also split with Stone Memorial during the campaign, winning by 10 here and losing by 10 there.
White County, which was 21-2 at one point before dropping six of its last seven games, was the last region team to defeat Bradley, in the 2015 semifinals.
The Warriorettes also gave former Bearette coaching legends Jim Smiddy and Paul Cretton fits during their times directing the program.
Despite dropping their third straight district title game to Bradley, East Hamilton (20-12) will host a region opener Friday as Rhea County (16-14) journeys to Collegedale.
In the other region quarterfinal contests, Cleveland (16-14) will travel to Cookeville (21-10), while McMinn County (21-11) will head to Crossville to face Stone Memorial (21-5).
If the 39-time region champion Bearettes are able to handle White County, the region semifinals will be at Smiddy Arena on Monday, with the region championship to be decided Feb. 27.
Despite having fallen to Bradley by nine points in their first meeting and 37 last month, East Hamilton wasn't intimidated Monday evening, quickly scoring the game's first five points in the opening minute.
Samford commit Anna Walker answered by drilling back-to-back 3-pointers for the first of eight lead changes in the initial period.
When all was said and done, the girls in Black-and-Gold were up 16-15 as the first horn sounded.
After the Lady Hurricanes retook the lead with the opening basket of the second frame, junior Cambree Mayo dropped in the first two of her nine points in the period to spark a 13-0 run that put Bradley ahead for good.
"We were nose-to-nose there in the first quarter," proclaimed Coach Reuter. "We were able to go up by 12 there in the second quarter and had chances to break it open even wider, but didn't cash in and they (EH) cut it to eight (31-23) at the half."
The champs came out of the locker rooms strong, quickly pushing the advantage back to 13 with a 3-pointer by sophomore Jamaryn Blair and an inside basket by Walker.
After East Ham was able to trim the difference back to single digits, the Bearettes got back-to-back long-range bombs from senior Kaleigh Hughes and Blair to push their lead to its highest point at 15, before District MVP Madison Hayes put back in an offensive rebound just before the third period buzzer.
Trailing by 13 with eight minutes to go, the Lady Hurricanes unleashed their strongest winds to score 13 of the first 16 points in the final frame and pull within three points (48-45) with just over a minute to go before Bradley sealed the victory with four straight free throws, two each from Blair and senior Hannah Lombard.
East Ham did get off five shots in the final 60 seconds, but none found the bottom of the net.
"It was a tough game. We knew they'd come back, but we had to keep keeping on," declared Walker, who was named the tournament's MVP after netting 13 points and clearing eight rebounds. The 6-foot junior had 15 points and a half dozen boards in Saturday's win over McMinn County.
"This feels good. We toughed it out. We had to keep our composure and do what we had to do to win," added Blair, who collected a dozen points, snagged seven caroms, dished five assists and copped a pair of steals as she earned All-Tournament honors.
Also selected to the honor squad was Mayo, who came off the bench for 12 points, and Lombard, who added 4-of-5 free throw shooting and pulled down five boards, while battling much bigger players in the paint.
"it was a very physical game," remarked Mayo. "I was surprised by making all-tournament. I wasn't expecting that."
"Cambree started for us last year, but has come off the bench this year and really given us a lift," praised Coach Reuter. "She has kept herself ready and made some really big shots for us when we've had to have them.
"Hannah's only 5-foot-7 and has battled against bigger post players her whole career and doesn't back down," the big "Papa Bear" added.
The Hayes sisters led the way for East Hamilton with Miss Tennessee Basketball finalist Madison posting a double-double with 18 points and a dozen boards to go with four assists and three thefts. Younger sister McKenna netted 13 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.
Bradley held a slim 33-31 rebounding edge in the contest, while the teams were almost even (15-14) in turnovers.
The Bearettes drained 9-of-25 (36 percent) from beyond the arc, including two each from Walker, Blair, Hughes and Mayo, but hit just 6-of-19 (32 percent) from close range. They also went 13-for-20 at the charity stripe.
East Ham made 13-of-32 (41 percent) from in front of the 19-foot curved line, but just 3-for-13 (23 percent) beyond it. The Lady 'Canes were 10-for-14 on freebies.
District 5-AAA Tournament
Girls Championship Game
at Soddy-Daisy HS
East Hamilton15 8 913 — 45
Bradley Central161514 7 — 52
LADY HURRICANES (45) — Madison Hayes 18, McKenna Hayes 13, Dezah Lacy 7, Laboo 4, Copeland 2, Pettit 1, Evans, Johnson, Patton.
BEARETTES (52) — Anna Walker 13, Cambree Mayo 12, Jamaryn Blair 12, Kaleigh Hughes 6, Anna Roberts 5, Lombard 4, Williams, Reuter, Barnes.
3-Pointers: EH 3 (Mc. Hayes 3); BC 9 (Walker 2, Hughes 2, Mayo 2, Blair 2, Roberts).
Free throws: EH 10-of-14; BC 13-of-20.
RECORDS: East Hamilton 20-12; No. 4-ranked Bradley Central 27-3.
Bradley Central – Anna Walker (MVP), Jamaryn Blair, Hannah Lombard, Cambree Mayo; East Hamilton – Madison Hayes, DeZah Lacy, McKenna Hayes; Cleveland – Madison Dasher, Kara Williams; McMinn County – Hannah Burns, Kaitlynn Hennessee; Ooltewah – Madalyn Mills; Walker Valley – Kyndall Gibson; Soddy-Daisy – Bailey Branam.
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